A little over a decade ago, Luyanda Hlatshwayo lived a double life. During the day, he woke early, donned a balaclava, and went through bins on the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa. He learned which types of materials could and could not be recycled, as he sifted through PET bottles, polystyrene foam, and multilayered plastic packaging. He kept a running tab on the going rate for recycled plastic, which rose and fell with the price of oil. At night, he returned to his family, who believed he still worked in hospitality.
“At some point I felt the need to take off the balaclava — not for everyone, but mainly for me,” Hlatshwayo told Grist. Over time, he began to take pride in his work, as he was now an entrepreneur serving a clear environmental purpose. In 2017, he and his fellow organizers began to advocate on behalf of the city’s 8,000 waste pickers. They pitched projects to municipal governments, representing themselves as environmental agents, incentivized to collect every piece of plastic, paper, or metal they could find.
While he still collects recycla... Read more