Weaving in and out of traffic, shaky trolleys precariously stacked with recyclables, wastepickers — or reclaimers, as they’re called in Joburg — have created an entire informal economy out of recycling, and it’s saved the country millions. It’s a difficult job, any reclaimer will tell you. Each day is a race to beat Pikitup to the black bins that line Joburg’s streets. Some reclaimers camp out in the neighbourhoods they work in to get a head-start on the waste giant. Others start their days before the sun is up, giving them time to tackle Joburg’s vast landfills to collect waste, or to rustle through the bins before the Pikitup trucks arrive. They travel about 50km a day, navigating their trolleys through Joburg’s furious traffic. Then there’s the crime. "It’s hard, hard, hard work," says Thomas Mudau, 41, who started working as a reclaimer after he lost his job as a gardener in 2011. "I wake up at 5am so I can walk on the streets. I don’t feel safe." Unlike most reclaimers, who pus...

BL Premium

This article is reserved for our subscribers.

A subscription helps you enjoy the best of our business content every day along with benefits such as exclusive Financial Times articles, ProfileData financial data, and digital access to the Sunday Times and Sunday Times Daily.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@businesslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00. Got a subscription voucher? Redeem it now