New Recycling Program Rewards Impoverished People


Getting impoverished people excited about the environment isn’t always easy. When your main concern in life is putting a meal on the table every day and generally keeping your head above water, worrying about things like pollution is often a luxury you can’t afford to waste time on.

A new social enterprise called TrashBack, which was launched in South Africa recently, hopes to change this by incentivizing recycling in disadvantaged communities and allowing people to convert what was previously considered worthless garbage into valuable rewards. A pilot project was initiated on the 3rd of September in Hout Bay near Cape Town as a collaboration between a non-governmental organization and a local recycling depot.

TrashBack works by rewarding garbage collectors for their efforts. Each time a participant delivers a load of recyclable trash to the depot, they are credited with a certain number of points. At the end of a given collection period, the points are tallied up and the community members who have accumulated the most points by collecting the most rubbish receive a reward.

To keep those who do not win a reward interested, they are allowed to carry their points over to the subsequent collection period whereas the top recyclers start again with zero points. Rewards include food, clothes, school textbooks, shopping and travel vouchers, mobile phone airtime and stationary.

The organizers have reported a steady flow of waste being delivered to the recycling depot since the project started, indicating that the community is embracing the initiative. The participants include many school children. On September 17, which was the first reward day, the top 50 garbage recyclers were rewarded. In the future, reward days will happen on a weekly basis.

The benefits of TrashBack include:

• challenging the widespread apathy about pollution and making recycling a desirable activity in local communities;

• empowering poor communities to manage and recycle their own waste;

• contributing to social upliftment through the creation of formal and informal jobs;

• less garbage being sent to landfills and more being recycled; and

• helping to instil pride, dignity and a sense of place in a cleaner community.

I think this is a great initiative and hope it takes off here and elsewhere. In the first month, 370 registered participants of the pilot project collected over three tons of recyclable garbage and earned 100 rewards in the process – a promising start in anyone’s book.

Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath


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Photo from: Stock.Xchng


Enoch C Gould
Enoch C. Gould4 years ago

Recycling to help impoverished communities--now there's a great idea! These people often survive by salvaging absolutely whatever they can, so they already recycle--they don't use all of the needless resources (such as we do in packaging) in their industries. We can in many ways realistically learn from them. And yes, they should be being payed for recycling!
Thanks, everyone!
God bless!
Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior!

Sarah M.
Sarah M7 years ago


Christine Stewart

Great idea! A similar idea, "Trashy Bags" in Ghana pays people to collect discarded drinking water packets, which are cleaned and then sewn into backpacks, wallets, purses....

Mary B.
Mary B7 years ago

Give them money, not points or more stuff. Even kids want to learn to make their own financial choices.We wouldn't haven't such a need to pick up trash if we didn't have so much 'stuff' all ready.People keep making stuff to sell because they need money. But we all need money to buy things that are nescessary and useful.

Karen F.
karen Friedman7 years ago

This is one of the best thought out ideas for any city , state country.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers7 years ago

We used to do something like this when we were kids (70's) ..they used to have deposits on certain glass bottles that most shops would redeem for money. (England) it was one of the only ways that children could make independent money (that and Carol singing, bob a job, and penny for the guy) The point is we would do it for money. M O N E Y.  Not clothes or toys or anything else that they deemed to give us, and it's with that feeling and the feeling of dignity that I find that particular reward system Patronising and insulting. You know they're not getting new clothes! nearly new, but they won't be new. As for a pair of nikes? They'll get one if someone 'gifts' the organisation with a pair.
When I, and anyone else I know 'donate' clothes to charity shops, we don't donate new clothes, we give them our old unwanted clothes, in fact we use it as a form of waste disposal. Geddit? If we were really charitable we would be giving them new clothes and new toys etc. 
All I'm saying is I would feel happier if they were given money. Collecting garbage is not pleasurable, especially in the heat.

Jim Gayden
Jim Gayden7 years ago

Great idea. However, I believe that it would be even better if more incentives were used to motivate even more people to get involved. I believe that everyone that participates should receive some type of reward. For example: a minimal reward could be something like a gallon of bottled water in a recycled container.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton7 years ago

Great idea.

Marianne C.
Marianne C7 years ago

This is a great idea. People in this area collect bottles and aluminum cans for a deposit.

We have single stream recycling now, and each house has its own collection bin. There have been complaints about bins being turned over, or stuff spilled around them. I suspect this is the result of homeless people going through the bins searching for something they can take in for the deposit. Personally, I would let anyone who wants my recycling to take it to the recycling center if it will help them feed themselves. I'd even give them bags to carry it in.

Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine7 years ago

Capturing the all markets is what is all about...