What you can do

Addressing South Africa’s waste challenge needs joint effort from all of us, including everyday consumers, big producers, policymakers, municipalities and waste treatment facilities.

Consumers that sort their household waste can only recycle if the infrastructure for collecting and processing their waste exists. Similarly, recycling larger volumes of waste relies on more and more households to participate in sorting.

We already have some assets to build on:

South Africa has a large informal waste sector. According to the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA), our country has more than 90 000 waste reclaimers. In 2014, these waste reclaimers were reported to have saved municipalities between R309 million and R748 million in landfill airspace just by diverting recyclables from landfills.

We also have progressive legislation. The updated National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) is moving us towards a circular economy, waste beneficiation, job creation and the development of small and medium enterprises in the waste industry. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations and carbon tax schemes have brought a lot of great shifts in the way waste is viewed and will become a great driver in the ongoing development of waste technology.

For producers, retailers and brands

  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is essential for plastic and packaging companies, as well as marketers of fast-moving consumables, to take responsibility for the volumes of waste they produce. Make sure your company complies. Get support from organisations like Polyco who can help manage your product’s life cycle. The South African Plastics Pact is a collaborative effort across the plastic packaging value chain. Leading brand owners and retailers unite in this voluntary initiative to establish a circular economy, eliminating problematic plastics and extending the lifespan of those in circulation. This movement aims to stimulate circular economy investment, create jobs, and contribute to a sustainable future. Discover the 12 plastics earmarked for phase-out by members here.
  • Waste beneficiation: Businesses could find creative ways to use their diverted waste for raw materials and enterprise development opportunities, which serves corporate responsibility and sustainability.
  • On-pack recycling labels (OPRLs) help consumers separate their rubbish at source for recycling. Retailers and brands have a responsibility to label their products, as well as to inform their customers about what the labels mean and what to do with products and packaging after use. In 2019, WWF South Africa worked with big retailers like Clicks, Food Lovers Market, Pick n Pay, Spar, Shoprite and Woolworths to launch simple and clear recycling labels. This is a necessary first step towards diverting waste away from landfills.
  • Sustainable packaging: Find ways to distribute products without using disposable packaging. Instead, develop packaging that is easy and safe to reuse, or that is recyclable.

​For government


  • Encourage shared ownership over public spaces like pavements, street corners or open plots. This could include planting flowers, establishing vegetable gardens, or working with nearby businesses to ensure they better own their immediate space.
  • Support the development of local economies that shorten the distance between producers and consumers, and encourage returnable and washable packaging and the sale of products in bulk.


  • Legislation and incentives can help producers to reduce the amount of inorganic waste they produce, shift to recyclable packaging, and take responsibility for recycling their products. Bans on certain non-recyclable products can also radically reduce waste.
  • Learn from and support informal, often necessity-driven, innovation: Rather than trying to ‘leapfrog’ to the waste management systems of developed countries, we can learn from, enhance and support existing and highly-inventive re-use and refurbishing strategies that many South Africans adopt out of necessity or for income-generation. This includes simple innovations like the re-use of car tyres for playgrounds, or the creation of children’s toys out of reclaimed paper and home-made glue, or the repurposing of food containers. High-income contexts in South Africa could also learn from the circular mindset of low-income contexts, essentially adopting ‘reverse leapfrogging’.


  • Work with informal waste reclaimers interested in participating and making a livelihood from waste recycling. This must include campaigns that challenge negative assumptions about waste pickers, especially in wealthier areas. It is important to get residents and authorities to see waste reclaimers as champions of the circular economy, who divert large volumes of waste away from landfill and perform a lot of work for residents and municipalities. South African researchers, alongside the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries have formulated a set of guidelines for municipalities to integrate waste reclaimers into the South African waste system, while also protecting them from mistreatment and health risks.
  • Create social and economic incentives to encourage participation and collective action in the management, re-use and recycling of waste. This might include municipally-supported buy-back schemes, or investing in local re-use or recycling businesses.
  • Awareness campaigns like beach or river clean-ups, or recycling drives, can be an effective way to attract attention to the waste management issues, even if it is not the whole story.


  • Improve local waste management systems by providing more bins and more regular and reliable waste removal, especially in informal areas, but also in formal areas of high population density due to backyarding – this is a land-use practice in which a homeowner rents backyard space to individuals or families that live in formal or informal structures in their apportioned area of the yard. We need more, regularly serviced, bins in public spaces (e.g. malls, taxi ranks, spazas, bus stops, informal markets/vending areas, clinics, parks) and these need to be made of materials which are not attractive to thieves. We also need skip bins for rubble, garden waste and business waste. Without these waste management systems, the cost of transporting waste, high dumping fees, and a lack of alternatives, can make illegal dumping the most attractive or only option.
  • Establish local integrated waste management facilities across the country.
  • Build relationships with communities and local activists so that residents know that they are not on their own with waste management challenges. This might discourage practices in which people use waste as a form of protest against poor service delivery and a feeling of having been abandoned by the government.

​For civil society and households


  • Amplify advocacy: Government needs to go further to ensure that packaging producers limit the amount of non-recyclable material they are producing, which is clogging up rivers and landfills at an alarming rate. You can hold companies accountable by divesting from big plastic producers and supporting campaigns to hold polluters accountable.
  • Replace disposable products and replace them with durable, reusable alternatives.


  • Learn about how to recycle, by becoming informed on what is recyclable, and how to prepare and sort waste for recycling.
  • Support retailers that use limited or recyclable packaging.
  • Create a recycling culture with your neighbours, schoolmates or colleagues by creating shared bins or tips for sorting at source. If there is no recycling in your neighbourhood, use this map from Sustainable Seas Trust to see where you can drop off your recycling to be collected. Collaborate with neighbours to share the work of regularly dropping off your collected recycling. Get more tips on how to recycle at home, school, or work here.
  • Support waste reclaimers: How waste pickers are seen by residents is important to ensure they are not harassed, marginalised, and victimised, and are able to do their work. It also transforms the nature of the public service by forging new respectful social relations between workers who provide services and residents who benefit from them.
  • Use waste management challenges as a way to galvanise solidarity and stronger social ties. This might be done, for example, by supporting local artists through hosting concerts or other arts or social events at which there is strong messaging around coming together to address waste management challenges. Local artists might also be supported to develop artworks promoting social cohesion and working together to create a healthy environment.


  • Create an act-fast clean-up crew: By acting quickly to clear up litter when it is first dumped, we ensure that public spaces don’t turn into dump sites.
  • Drive public participation: It is not the job of the municipality, alone, to clean up litter. All of us can play a part in making the circular economy work.
  • Create a sense of ownership over local public spaces. Pavements, street corners and other ‘in-between’ spaces can easily become sites for dumping. Develop locally relevant strategies to reclaim spaces which typically nobody takes responsibility for (like roads, rivers, and open spaces). These strategies can include planting flowers, establishing vegetable gardens, or working with nearby businesses to ensure they better own their immediate space.

​For social entrepreneurs and activists


  • Create recycling businesses through social incentives: A value chain can be created which stimulates new energy and buy-in to separate and recycle waste. Social and economic incentives linked to the things that are most important to people can encourage their participation in waste management projects. For example, participation in clean-ups and waste reclaiming can produce social solidarity, a sense of community and income/food opportunities (as in the Soulbent project, Saulsville), or lasting dignity through funeral support and a clean environment (as in the Soweto recycling project), or educational, food and income support (as in the Diepsloot eco-brick classrooms project). All provide relevant social incentives that foster action against littering, while also encouraging recycling and community cleaning.
  • Find creative ways to repurpose waste: By repurposing and upcycling single-use plastic, we extend its value and diminish the need for new products.
  • Create communities of practice where activists can meet, share ideas and develop a common voice around pressing waste management issues. There are activists in many settlements and areas, but they currently do not have a united voice to put pressure on authorities to make a systemic change.
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