Trolley and Recycling Project

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January 2017


In 2021, the Trolley and Recycling Project was announced the joint winner in Petco’s Recycling Awards, in the Best Community Recycling Initiative Category.

In 2018, we collaborated with The Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District (VRCID), MES Cape Town and Green Cape to design and initiate the Trolley and Recycling Project, a structured, facilitated programme that provides personal and economic development opportunities for waste pickers. It is designed to empower individuals to become active recycling entrepreneurs, through their participation in a skills development and life skills programme. It will also help to maintain a clean city centre and reduce the waste mountain in Cape Town. The Trolley Project is an integrated social, environmental and economic development programme which was launched following 18 months of extensive research, consultation and programme development.

In Bellville CBD alone, 200 tons of waste are recycled every month. The waste is collected by waste pickers who transport recyclable materials to buy-back centres. The buy-back centres pay the pickers for each usable load. GreenCape estimates that this process saves the City of Cape Town around R1 million every month. In addition, recycling diverts waste from landfills which are already running out of space. Around 80% of post-consumer waste is recycled through the informal economy.

For waste pickers, recycling other people’s waste is their only way to earn an income. According to a survey conducted by GreenCape, picking waste is a full-time job for many of the individuals. On average, they work 8.5 hours a day, collecting and transporting waste.

Waste is a growing problem in Cape Town, where landfills are full to capacity in addition to discarded uncollected waste sending a negative signal about an urban environment. Poverty is the number one driver of homelessness and negative behaviour in our cities. The Trolley Project helps to address these concerns: to maintain a clean, well-kept city centre, divert waste from landfills and provide opportunities for destitute people to earn an income that could, over time, break the cycle of poverty.


The programme is run in three phases to ensure the individuals recruited are reliable and committed to changing their lives for the better.

In the first phase, individuals are required to show commitment and good performance as they participate in the programme and attend personal development sessions.

After six months of diligent performance, pickers are issued with high-visibility vests, marking their promotion through the ranks of the programme.

At this stage, they will be introduced to business owners, with a view to establishing a regular ‘beat’. Businesses discard more recyclable materials such as cardboard and paper which are generally uncontaminated by other non-recyclables. It therefore carries more value for the pickers and enables them to earn more. The entrepreneurial and life skills training continues throughout the programme.

Seven months after being admitted to the programme, high performing participants are issued a trolley that will help them transport collected materials.

After the first cohort, at least one informal trolley operator was able to secure permanent accommodation for herself, which was never possible before her introduction to the programme.