Landfill and street waste pickers in South Africa are responsible for collecting substantial volumes of recyclable material, saving municipalities millions and contributing to a generally healthier and cleaner environment. Yet waste pickers continue to operate on the fringes of the economy and are exposed to many risks, particularly health risks which have a direct impact on the sustainability of their livelihoods. This article, using a mixed-methods approach, explores the health risks to which waste pickers working on nine different landfills in the country are exposed. The socio-ecological framework was used to analyse and present the results. A key finding was that waste picking, by its very nature, lends itself to innumerable health risks, but that these can be lessened through concerted and collaborative efforts on the part of landfill operators, local authorities and other stakeholders. Integrating the 'self-employed' waste pickers into the formal waste management system should be comprehensive in order to limit health risks. Waste pickers will never have a risk-free environment, but facilitative policies and supportive institutions can collaboratively help to mitigate these risks and create a more sustainable and dignified working environment towards sustaining their livelihoods.
Keywords: South Africa; health risks; landfill; landfill waste picker; recyclables; waste pickers.