The Human Value of Waste

Reducing the amount of domestic solid waste going to landfill is an environmental priority. ReSource speaks to Eugene van Niekerk, CEO, FMSA, about his company’s novel approach to recycling, which includes the empowerment of South Africa’s street waste picker community.

FMSA was established in 2012 as a niche corporate and industrial waste solutions specialist, providing a range of on-site sorting and disposal services and working with clients to maximise their recyclable values. Examples include the sorting and grading of material, and the establishment of formal recycling initiatives. The overall goal is to minimise waste volumes and disposal costs. Sectors covered include: medium to large industrial clients; shopping and retail centres; residential and lifestyle estates; casinos, exhibitions and events; and schools and tertiary institutions.

Waste sorted at site goes to one of three destinations, namely FMSA’s community recycling centres, mills and refineries, or to landfill. To meet broader social and environmental demands, FMSA has also reached out to and is supporting the rapidly expanding street waste picker community – a common sight within South Africa’s major cities – via the ongoing establishment of a series of buy-back centers at its Gauteng recycling plants. Here, the waste delivered is then sorted and bailed for downstream sale to aggregators and end-users. “We take a turnkey approach to waste management, which ensures that our clients meet their environmental and legal compliance requirements,” Van Niekerk explains. “At the same time, we believe in promoting sustainability and empowering people. Every member of society needs to understand their role and contribution within the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle and recover’ cycle.”

“In this respect, FMSA supports the recent launch of the Good Green Deeds Programme. In order to answer President Ramaphosa’s call for South Africans to change their behaviour towards the responsible management of waste and create job opportunities, FMSA is expanding its network of Community Recycling Centres.” To date, FMSA’s growth has hinged on consistently meeting three key deliverables, namely the efficient management of client site operations, reliable and dependable collections, and FMSA’s ability to maintain clean waste sections. These key services are backed by comprehensive monthly reports, which incorporate information like commodity rebates, collection notes and disposal certificates. “Achieving lower waste volumes ultimately delivers substantial savings. In some cases, we’ve turned waste generated on-site into a positive monthly income for our clients. This has been achieved by simply implementing correct recycling practices at the waste generation points,” he explains.


Empowering Pickers

Currently, FMSA assists around 3 000 street waste pickers on a monthly basis by buying materials suitable for recycling from them. Given the high rate of unemployment and homelessness within South Africa’s urban areas, it’s evident that this informal sector will continue to undergo exponential expansion. The upside is the opportunity to create SMMEs within the street waste picker community. “During the last five years, we realised that each time we opened a new branch, we immediately created opportunities for up to 350 street waste pickers to either expand their activities or find work for the first time in the recycling sector,” says Van Niekerk. “While many of our competitors buy waste from pickers, we’ve taken this a step further by formalising the service. Plus, we’re bringing our corporate partners on board.” Street waste pickers tend to share a common experience.

They frequently have limited education and low skills levels, making them ‘unemployable’ in the formal sector; and they’re often migrants from rural areas with no access to formal housing (around 70% sleep on the street). Most do not have a bank account and, therefore, access to financial products, including loans. “Within the FMSA recycling branches, our vision is to provide a ‘safe haven’ for street waste pickers so that they can sell their hard-earned commodities without being exploited,” he asserts. Forming a Trust To achieve this initiative, the FMSA Group is establishing an independent black-owned trust. Registered street waste pickers will then hold a share in a specific FMSA community-based buy-back centre. The aim of this empowerment trust is to enable, train and educate South African street waste pickers, and help them become part of the formal economy, with a roof over their heads.


This initiative seeks to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Create a sustainable microbusiness enterprise for the informal street waste picker industry
  • Secure a stable source of income, thereby reducing poverty, reliance on government aid and criminal activity
  • Enable and protect street waste pickers by providing sound and safe resources – examples include the use of branded recycling trolleys, and the issuing of protective clothing
  • Provide access to financial products, like credit and debit cards, accident cover, etc.
  • Provide basic training in areas like life skills and communication
  • Provide education – from basic writing, reading, etc. to formalised NQF level courses
  • Assist with feeding programmes.

At some stage, trolleys might evolve into more advanced bicycle- or scooter driven platforms, but not for now. In the interim, FMSA is researching the roll-out of larger and better trolleys that will still be manually pulled and steered. “When waste commodity prices dip, it clearly has a direct impact on what we can pay the street waste pickers for their loads. Either way, our goal is to provide them with larger and safer trolleys that enable the transportation of bigger payloads,” Van Niekerk adds. “In the end, our vision is to become the household name in the street waste-picking sector through our enterprise development plan, working with corporate clients and public sector stakeholders. We want to create green solutions that build people and keep our cities and towns clean,” he concludes.

This article appeared in the May 2019 issue of ReSource Magazine.