Turning livelihood to rubbish? The politics of value and valuation in South Africa’s urban waste sector

Henrik Ernstson, Mary Lawhon, Anesu Makisa, Nate Millington, Kathleen Stokes, Erik Swyngedouw

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


We will discuss our experience of researching solid waste management politics in South African cities, in particular Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Ekurhuleni. The title of our project – Turning Livelihoods to Waste? – was designed to raise a serious of questions about ongoing trends in the waste sector and the implications. South African household waste management operates under a paradigm of cooperative governance where authority is distributed across various scales of government, business, and society. Recent efforts to expand, improve, and formalize solid household waste management and recycling initiatives have implications for those who currently work with waste - particularly for informal waste pickers or reclaimers, who do much of the primary work with waste in the global south. Despite promises of green economic development and job creation, many people working with waste in South Africa work are subjected to precarious and difficult work conditions or experience new uncertainties and vulnerabilities which threaten existing livelihood strategies. In turn, there are serious questions about whether waste workers should be expected to work in dangerous conditions, and what sorts of alternate arrangements may be more just and more ecologically sustainable.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAfrican cities and collaborative futures
Subtitle of host publicationUrban platforms and metropolitan logistics
EditorsMichael Keith, Andreza de Souza Santos
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9781526155368
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2021


  • waste
  • politics
  • South Africa
  • cooperative governance
  • urban political ecology
  • waste pickers
  • seeing like a city
  • African cities
  • infrastructure

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities


Dive into the research topics of 'Turning livelihood to rubbish? The politics of value and valuation in South Africa’s urban waste sector'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this