Trash for Cash

Posted by Flux on 

17 May 2021

Recycling has long been the domain of the affluent. For the lower income segment of society, there are more important issues to contend with, such as basic survival. Recently however, there have been several innovations which create an economic incentive to recycle and which provide an income for lower LSM citizens.

In Johannesburg, you can exchange trash for groceries. Love Our City Klean is a charity in Lorentzville which provides an opportunity for residents of the low income inner city, hard hit by the pandemic, to swap their recyclable waste for points, which they can then use to buy food, clothes and toiletries. Many people are able to obtain a bag of essentials each week. The plastics and other recyclables are then sold to fund more of these schemes. In addition to the humanitarian element of this concept, it is also helping clean the streets of these neighbourhoods. 

Imagined Earth and EasyEquities have recently partnered to create a world-first initiative that allows the money earned from recycling to be converted into shares. Imagined Earth has numerous Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) in Johannesburg and Cape Town where you are rewarded for recycling. The machines accept plastic, glass, tins and Tetra Paks, made from paperboard, a recyclable raw material. An app allows you to scan a barcode at home to determine whether an item is recyclable or not, and you can then take the recyclable items to the nearest RVM for exchange. You earn cash which can be used to purchase airtime, fuel, grocery vouchers or shares through Easy Equities.

Above: Imagined Earth 

Plastics can also be recycled to pay for public transport internationally. In Beijing, plastic bottles can pay for your subway ticket. Ticket vending machines in the subway stations accept used water bottles as payment which takes the form of transportation credit or mobile phone minutes. Beijing also has a vast army of informal collectors who roam the city’s streets looking for recyclables, exactly as we have in South Africa. But in China it is a booming industry that processes 50,000 tonnes of bottles a year. 

Similar to the Beijing scheme, plastic bottles can be exchanged for metro tickets in Rome. A standard ticket costs 1.5 euros and is equivalent to 30 bottles. This is an innovative solution to curb the problem of litter that Rome has been experiencing, while also awarding economic benefits to its citizens. The project is currently in its pilot phase.

There are some initiatives that aim to incentivise organisations to recycle.

Trash in Cash in (TiCi) is a South African recycling campaign in which schools and organisations receive cash based on the weight of the recycled goods. 

These initiatives are all aimed at motivating the public to recycle waste and to make a positive environmental impact. We need to change the narrative from eco-speak to economic upliftment, whether it’s in the form of cash or essential services. Once we do that, it then becomes a win-win situation. Save the planet and create economic upliftment by recycling.

By: Faeeza Khan

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Image credit: Rawpixel


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