A growing population and economy in South Africa are leading to increased waste generation, putting pressure on waste management facilities, which are already in short supply. Each year, South Africa generates more than 50 million tonnes of general waste with only a third being recycled, and the remainder being disposed of in landfill sites, dumpsites, and in the environment. Around 1 in 3 people (more than 5 million households) in South Africa lack access to a regular waste collection service, and the open burning of waste is commonplace.
The waste and recycling sector in South Africa is comprised of a patchwork of municipal service providers, private companies and informal waste collectors often working as associations or cooperatives. The informal sector plays a vital role in recovering materials for recycling, but access to finance is limited and they are often not recognised for the important service they provide to society. Meanwhile, as recycling and the concept of a circular economy take hold, an increasing number of entrepreneurs are seeing the economic opportunity in waste, creating livelihoods from resources that would otherwise be dumped or burned.