Separation at Source Programme (S@S) in the City of Johannesburg

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, Public Utility

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2018

The S@S programme aims to reduce waste to landfills, establish a recycling economy with citizen support and participation.

The aim of this initiative is to contribute towards the city of Johannesburg’s waste minimization plan and in particular the goal to of diverting 93% of waste away from landfills by 2040. The municipality supports households and businesses to separate recyclables from non-recyclable waste, encouraging a community driven approach to waste management, waste prevention and waste minimisation. This is helping to promote a clean, conscientious and healthy city: One where land is freed up for important things like housing and agriculture, not landfilling; and one where we try not to use more than we need to and save energy through re-using and recycling materials to make new items instead of depleting natural resources.

This project has been chosen by the city of Johannesburg to be peer-reviewed in the frame of the Sustainable Cities Collaboratory:

Sustainable Development Goals

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Johannesburg, South Africa

Size and population development
Johannesburg has roughly doubled in size since the end of apartheid in 1994, with a population of around 5.5 million people in 2018. In addition to the city proper, the larger metropolitan area is home to 9.6 million people, taking up most of Gauteng province. The city itself is set to expand by another two million people by 2035.

Population composition
Johannesburg is an ethnic and cultural melting pot. Of the city’s population, 64% are black, 14% coloured, 14% white and 7% Asian/Indian. Many different languages, such as English, Afrikaans, Zulu or Xhosa are widely used on a daily basis. Johannesburg sports a young population, with around 42% of people being under the age of twenty-four, and only 6% over sixty. There are strong rich/poor divides, following the deep socio-economic divides from the history of colonialism and apartheid, high levels of unemployment and many people living in settlements that lack central municipal services.

Main functions
Johannesburg was founded in 1884 after the discovery of gold, and has since boomed, becoming the largest city in South Africa, and the biggest in the world not set on water, be it sea, lake or river. The area around Johannesburg has been inhabited since before the emergence of modern humans. Indeed, the city is just 25km from the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ UNESCO World Heritage Site, a site where large numbers of proto-human remains have been fossilised in caves. Elevated 1,753 metres above sea level, Johannesburg is the unofficial economic capital of South Africa—which happens to be a country without a legally designated capital. It remains a diverse place, where much wealth and poverty sit side by side, has a bustling multiculturalism, long-term settlers and migrants. Johannesburg also hosts numerous educational centres, including several universities and private collages, large sporting venues, and other cultural centres. The city is also home to the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Main industries / business
Johannesburg is estimated to possess the largest economy of any city in sub-Saharan Africa. It is home to Africa’s largest stock exchange, the headquarters for many mining companies, financial institutions and other multinationals active in Africa. This gives the city a thriving services industry, with banking, IT, telecom, media and consumer retail sectors. Johannesburg also sports the continents biggest and busiest airport. Mining was of the greatest importance to the city, yet it has gradual declined owing to limited resources as well as the growth of other industries, notably manufacturing, with heavy industries like steel and cement operating.

Sources for city budget
The city draws it budget from pay-as-you-earn income taxes, and additional taxes on capital gains, value added, and property taxes, such as transfer, stamp and estate duty.

Political structure
After numerous reorganizations, most recently in 2006, Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality governs the city via a council-mayor system. This features a separation between the legislative and executive bodies, plus an administrative arm, with the model mirroring the national and provincial governments. The city is divided into seven regions, labelled A to G, each composed of various suburbs. Above them is the executive branch, the Mayor of Johannesburg and the highest elected position in the city. Beyond the city is the premier of Gauteng, the smallest of South Africa’s nine provinces, and then the national government. Across the 20th century, many public organisations have been reorganised to run as corporate entities with the city as a shareholder. Concepts of “efficiency maximisation” has found expression elsewhere, with the seven regions being conceived as contractors to the central government, rather than components of the core administration. Each of the seven regions is responsible for the delivery of health care, housing, social development and other such community-based services. Likewise, Johannesburg’s key utilities, such as electricity, water and waste collection, are run by registered companies along business lines, receiving their funds from directly billing the populous.

Administrative structure
Johannesburg has 270 councillors representing various political parties, who debate local government issues, ratifying or rejecting proposals. The council focuses on legislative, oversight and participatory roles, delegating its executive function to the mayor and their various mayoral committees. The executive mayor has numerous political portfolios, including: economic development, development planning, environment and infrastructure service, housing, public safety, community development, transport and health and safety.

The city of Johannesburg is among the fastest growing cities in South Africa with a population of approximately 5 million plus residents. Johannesburg, due to its vibrant economic activity, is projected to continue to grow to a population of about 7 million residents by 2040. This could translate to 3.1 million tons of waste managed by Pikitup (the City’s waste utility company) by 2040. The City’s current landfills, on the other hand, are experiencing a rapid depletion of landfill airspace and should the conventional manner of managing waste, i.e. disposal, continue, Pikitup will run out of landfill airspace by 2023.

The city administration has therefore called for increased diversion of waste away from landfills towards re-use, recycling and recovery. This is in line with national policy. In order to achieve this, the National Waste Management Strategy sets targets for metros, secondary cities and large towns to implement Separation at Source programmes in which waste generators (e.g. households and businesses) separate recyclables from non-recyclable waste. The city of Johannesburg is one of the forerunners who has rolled out its Separation at Source programme through its municipal owned entity Pikitup Johannesburg (SOC) Ltd.

The key objectives of the Separation at Source programme are as follows:

  • 50 000 tons of dry recyclables (S@S) to be diverted from landfill sites in 2018/19.
  • Implementing waste hierarchy (from waste avoidance and reduction, to re-use, recycle, recovery, and lastly treatment and disposal).
  • Green House Gas reduction.
  • Conserve natural resources by re-using the waste for the manufacture of new items instead of using natural resources all the time.
  • Save landfill airspace so that our landfill sites can last for longer and not need additional land which we can use for other things e.g. agriculture, housing etc.
  • Save energy. The production of some products from recycled materials uses far less energy than the production of the same product from raw materials.
  • Job creation, skill development and poverty alleviation.

The Separation at Source programme was rolled out on a voluntary basis from 2009 in some areas of the city and has now been made mandatory in parts of the city as of 1st July 2018. Separation at Source is made possible by the cooperation of residents who separate the waste at household level and take out the bin containing the waste residual (non-recyclable waste) and the recycling bags with recyclable waste. Recyclables are collected at the kerbside by separate trucks on the same day as the normal collections of the residual waste by Pikitup. Pikitup also has 42 operating garden refuse transfer sites at which it provides containers for the disposal of light garden waste and recyclable material.

In addition to kerbside recycling Johannesburg has developed a network of drop-off facilities across the city so that communities can drop-off their household generated dry recyclables for the purpose of re-use, recycling or further processing. The recyclables are then sorted by on site by small, medium and micro-sized enterprises who then sell them for their own financial gain. 

Currently there are two types of operational models that are being utilized for dry recyclable waste collection from residents, namely traditional and private sector model.  The traditional model is community based and consists of a number of co-operatives that offer a dry recyclables collection and sorting service to the residents with assistance from Pikitup. Pikitup facilitates the cooperative Separation at Source model through the supply of fleet, bags and other supporting infrastructure such as sorting areas.  Pikitup has established 37 co-operatives contributing towards innovative ways to create value from waste.

The private sector model consists of service providers who deliver the dry recyclables collection service to residents on behalf of Pikitup. In this model the service providers procure bags, deliver and collect bags to residents and operate their own sorting facilities. In return, Pikitup pays for this service. Both models consist of an education and awareness programme that is rolled out within the serviced communities.

In an effort to maximize green waste diversions away from landfills, household can drop-off garden waste at 42 operating sites. Pikitup chips and shreds the clean green waste which is collected at no charge by the service provider and hauled to their composting facility for composting purposes or further processing.

Pikitup has received support from various stakeholders and Johannesburg entities. Below is a list of some of the resources that have been provided by external parties.

  • The city of Johannesburg harnessed the capacity and the energy that exists within the private sector and commenced collaboration with private operators in 2017/18 to expand the roll-out of the programme to more areas.
  • Corporations in the private sector have helped to support and empower small, micro, medium enterprises (SMEs) entering the recycling sector through financial and infrastructure donations.
  • Industry recycling groups have been supportive in providing relevant recycling training to the community businesses (i.e. business management, operations management, recycling techniques).
  • Community co-operatives offer recyclable collection and sorting service to residents with assistance from the city’s waste management entity, Pikitup.
  • The Waste Picker Forum promotes engagement between the city and waste pickers on their integration into the waste value chain.

The City of Johannesburg initially targeted over 300 suburbs and 500 000 households for its Separation at Source programme. Over the last few years, waste diversion of dry recyclables and garden waste has steadily increased through the programme. There has been an average of 30,000 tons of dry waste diverted over the past three financial years. The target is to increase the yield of dry recyclables extracted from the households to 55,000 tons per annum by 2019/20 financial year. The 42 drop-off facilities have resulted in the diversion away from landfills of approximately 50,000 tons of green waste annually since 2015.

The city of Johannesburg aims to create a paradigm shift around waste management by 2040. The City’s goal is to have a 20% source reduction; alongside 33% of waste being recycled and composted; 40% of waste going to conversion technologies and only 7% of waste being disposed of in landfills. 

It is noted that the relationship between Pikitup and the SMEs (including household and reclaimers) is key to the Separation at Source programme. The ability to meet the target successfully is dependent on the availability of capacity and budget and reaching even more of the Johannesburg community. Other considerations include upgrading of infrastructure (e.g. Garden sites and buy back centres) and formalising the activities of waste pickers and mobile recycling stations.

To increase future extraction rates Pikitup will implement the following initiatives:

  • Increase its education and awareness programmes to positively influence the recycling rates.
  • Strengthen the monitoring and evaluation capacity to prevent data leakages.
  • Collaborating with private sector, SMEs and reclaimers to strengthen capacity and further improve delivery.
  • Separation at Source not only contributes towards a sustainable environment, it also creates business opportunities. The procurement of additional service providers will maximise Separation at Source in households and in communal spaces. The outsourcing of these services should enable and empower both existing entrepreneurs and new entrants in the recycling economy.
  • Monitoring is vital for a programme such as this i.e. ensuring bags are issued to residents, collection services are provided (and provided reliably); statistical reporting is recorded accurately.
  • This programme incorporates a particular focus on stakeholder engagement and partnership to ensure there is a collective effort from civil society, business and labour that Pikitup runs an effective waste minimisation programme within the city of Johannesburg.

Schoeman, Louié (2017) Feasibility study for alternative waste treatment technology Feasibility study report City of Johannesburg Revision 3. Aurecon South Africa (Pty) Ltd

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Sustainable Cities Collaboratory
Berlin, Germany

Sustainable Cities Collaboratory

Institution | Network

Kate Joseph
Johannesburg, South Africa

Kate Joseph

Individual | Specialist Research

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