Reclaiming Waste

reclaimer (noun)

[ ri-kleymer ]

one that reclaims; informal worker of the recyclables sector.
synonyms: waste picker, informal recycler.

Reclaiming waste was conceived as an action-research project borrowing methodologies from human geography, urban studies, and sociology. From the beginning, the project had both academic and social ambitions.

In early 2019, IFAS started liaising with the informal recyclers of the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), an independent association comprised of 6,000 reclaimers in Johannesburg. From our exchanges with the representatives of the organisation we chose to develop a project that would contribute to the ongoing effort of raising awareness about reclaimers in South Africa.

The project was then developed as a three-step research programme. First, the “Reclaimers/Designers workshop”, a collaborative effort to collect raw data and ideas. Secondly, an academic conference “Reclaiming Waste: social and environmental challenges”, fostering conversations between reclaimers and local and international researchers. Finally, the “Reclaiming Waste” website, a digital publication reflecting the ambitious work started, refined and concluded by the whole team during the project.

The workshop was held in October 2019. It gathered reclaimers, researchers and visual designers from Johannesburg, around the idea of creating a “reclaimers campaign” advocating for more responsible waste practices. The participants and the facilitating team chose to emphasise on comprehensive, visual, and accessible content that would present and acknowledge the work of the reclaimers in Johannesburg.

This visual campaign targeted especially the most polluting and consuming households of the upper and middle-class, living in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, with the ambition to create relationships between them and the reclaimers. One of the designs developed during the workshop gave birth to the very pamphlet showcased on this website.

The methodology used to create, refine and finalise this specific pamphlet, was the one of co-production of knowledge, respecting a strict balance between all contributors, recognising all their skills as equally important. 1 500 paper copies of the pamphlet have been handed out to the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), so that their members in Johannesburg can distribute them within residential communities of the city.

The key objectives of the pamphlet are to inform residents, through important figures about the reclaimers work, to advocate for relationship-building between residents and reclaimers, to call for respect and dignity for the reclaimers, by providing them better access to the waste bins through the separation of household waste at the source.

A digital version of the pamphlet can also be downloaded from this website. It is a free to use document, accessible to any reclaimer or association in South Africa and beyond. The messages carried out in this pamphlet were thought in the most universal manner possible, so that the document could be relevant in other parts of the world. There is always room for improvement, therefore, do not hesitate to contact us for suggestions. Please download the pamphlet, customise it to fit your needs in your city/country, and share it!

The team

Project Managers: Marie Fricout (IFAS-Culture), Eloi Rouillon (IFAS-Research), Line Relisieux (IFAS-Research)

Collaborators: Jennifer van den Bussche (Sticky Situations), Mzwandile Buthelezi, Alex Cunningham (Boundless City), Hayley Gewer, Eli Kodisang (ARO), Melanie Samson (University of the Witwatersrand)

Academic partners: visit the international conference webpage, and its programme.

Warm thanks to Angela, Benedicte, Boitumelo, Catherina, Eli, Emilie, Eva, Helena, Lebogang, Luyanda, Ngkopoleng, Paula, Rico, Saliem, Sophie, Steven, Whitney, and everyone else who took part in the project with us.

This cycle of academic, cultural, and public events has been coordinated in Johannesburg by the research and cultural departments of the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), in collaboration with their partners, and with the support of the Institut français à Paris.
All images © IFAS-Research