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By Ava Salitsky
One the edge of Pietermaritzburg, just off the Johannesburg-Durban highway, lies a small, three-room building that houses groundWork, an environmental justice organization that works throughout South Africa.
The director, Bobby Peek, says that GroundWork tries to assist vulnerable and underprivileged people who are most affected by environmental injustices.
He sits in an eccentric orange room describing how his agency functions. With each new subject his excitement grows and his tone of voice becomes louder and more animated.
Groundwork has been working with the waste pickers over the last two years. They make a livelihood by taking recyclables off waste dumps and selling them to recyclers.
"People are making a living from recycling," says Peek. On average, waste pickers earn R1,500 to R2,500 per week ($220 to $373).
Waste pickers have fought for acknowledgment by the government, but Peek says it has aggressively ignored their input on how recycling could be integrated successfully into waste management.
According to the Municipal Systems Act of 2000, cities are in charge of waste management. But they fail to involve waste pickers, who toil in most of the community waste landfill sites in South Africa.
GroundWork wants to help form a waste pickers association to help protect their livelihoods from the industrial world, says Peek.