WasteAid Joins Forces with the John Lewis Partnership Foundation to Support Disadvantaged Youth in South Africa


Author: Alison

Published: 27 March 2024

In South Africa, disadvantaged rural communities face many challenges caused by poverty and a lack of education, skills, and employment opportunities. The country has the second highest youth unemployment rate in the world at 51.5%, while in the Thembisile Hani municipality of Mpumalanga 49.4% of youth are unemployed, with only 11.7% completing secondary school.


Often, collecting and selling waste is the only way people can make a living. However, picking through toxic waste that clogs the streets, waterways and informal dump sites has a multitude of risks, while the lack of business skills and opportunities limits income generation potential.


A new WasteAid initiative backed by the John Lewis Partnership Foundation will see 100 waste collectors and artisans in rural Mpumalanga given the skills and resources they need to improve their income potential.


WasteAid, a UK-based environmental and development charity has been active in South Africa since 2020 and in 2022 undertook a feasibility study to identify opportunities to reduce plastic waste; launching an education and infrastructure programme to improve livelihoods through waste management.


The new project will expand and replicate WasteAid’s approach in two new rural locations in Mpumalanga, supporting predominantly youth waste pickers and artisans through a bespoke training programme that will equip them with business, waste management, personal development, and upcycling skills and provide basic resources needed to increase their livelihood opportunities.


As well as empowering the waste collectors, artisans, and their families, it is anticipated the programme will positively impact around 21,000 members of the community by reducing the amount of dumped and burned waste, which in turn will improve environmental and health outcomes.


WasteAid will also be working with communities and government institutions including The Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land And Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA) and The Thembisile Hani District Municipality to provide educational awareness, establish recycling collection and storage points, and identify markets to sell recyclables and upcycled products; providing an enabling environment for waste pickers.


Ceris Turner-Bailes, CEO of WasteAid, said: “Our project aims to help create dignified and safe livelihoods for young people who lack formal employment opportunities and work as informal waste pickers. Through our interventions, waste pickers will have an opportunity to upskill themselves, generate incomes and benefit both their communities and environments by providing alternative options to harmful dumping and burning practices.”



In informal settlements and underserviced rural communities where waste management is limited or non-existent, approximately 84% of people are forced to dump and burn their waste, while the majority of first-step waste recovery is undertaken by the informal sector. An estimated 90,000+ people live a hand-to-mouth existence as waste-pickers in South Africa. However, waste pickers often live and work in dire conditions and do not receive recognition or support for the valuable work they do.


According to WasteAid’s data, waste reclaimers earn an average of only £55 per month with 70% of those living under the lower-bound poverty line. They experience harsh living conditions including homelessness, food insecurity, lack of formal housing and access to basic services (electricity and water). They operate in dangerous conditions such as mismanaged dumpsites; exposing them to toxic chemicals from burning waste and decomposing organic matter, putting their health and lives at risk. They also lack access to finance, resources, and support to help them elevate their position in life.


By investing in education and support for young people we aim to empower and create meaningful livelihood opportunities that contribute to the economic and social development of disadvantaged communities, whilst addressing the global waste crisis.


The project ultimately contributes to the John Lewis Partnership Foundation’s vision of working in partnership for happier people, happier business, and a happier world.


Nicola Waller, John Lewis Partnership Foundation Chair of Trustees, said: “At the John Lewis Partnership Foundation, we’re excited to be supporting WasteAid to empower vulnerable young people employed in the informal waste picking sector in Mpumalanga, South Africa. By providing waste pickers with technical training and entrepreneurial skills, young people will be able to access improved livelihoods, bringing to life our mission of creating a happier world.”