A flickering light can be seen from the thick darkness near a dump site in Kuwadzana, 15 km east of Harare have already filled their sacks to the brim with all manner of plastic.
Inside their sacks are plastic bottles, plastic plates, adhesive pipes and plastic bags.
It is 10 pm and while their mates are enjoying their sleep, the two brothers hustle through the night.
The illegal dumpsite dump site littered with plastic, paper and all manner of garbage has formed for the past six months due to council’s failure to collect refuse.
But for these two brothers, council’s ineptitude is a blessing in disguise.
What others see as waste, the two brothers see as money.
A kilogramme of plastic is sold for US$4 to recycling companies and the brothers can make up to US$50 in a good week, enough to buy their mother hypertension medication and food.
More lucrative plastics include, plastic bottles of beverages as they are easily recycled.
“My brother told me about this hustle when Covid-19 begun but scoffed at the idea. it was not until I saw him begin to make money, that I also followed. Since then we can now afford to put a roof over our heads and take care of our mother,” Melvin said.
Desperate Zimbabweans, have turned to collecting plastic to eke out living while helping save the environment from littering.
Nervous is among Zimbabweans selling plastic for survival as the cost of living soars, piling pressure on a population already facing food shortages and high unemployment, stirring memories of economic chaos years ago under veteran leader Robert Mugabe’s near four-decade rule.
“We started moving around dumping sites around 6pm because we know that people normally throw their garbage in the evening to avoid being detected by authorities,” Nervous said.
“Our area of operation is Kuwadzana but whenever there isn’t much plastic we got to other surrounding areas. But you have to be careful because there are pickers eager to make money,” he added.
According to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate Change, about 600 tons of plastic are thrown away in the capital Harare every day.
At the same time, the waste collectors are a blessing for the city. Plastics do not rot, but pose long-term threats to the environment. Recycling solves this problem.
According to Natural Resources Forum, waste picking can reduce pollution, which would otherwise become a threat to the health of humans.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) argues that the major environmental threats to the country created by single-use plastic bags.
But for the two brothers, plastic bags and even small plastic bottles can guarantee the next meal.
“We now have an understanding with the man we supply to look for specific plastic which get’s us money quick,” Melvin says.
The country is estimated to generate nearly 1.6 million tonnes of waste every year, out of which plastic accounts for almost 18%, making plastic picking a steady stream of income.
Though the country has not imposed ban on single use plastics, there exists a ban on use of thin plastics measuring less than 30 micrometres.
Recycling of waste at the household level is seen as a sustainable way of providing more economic and environmental benefits to local communities.
Plastic companies rely on pickers to stock up, but prices remain low according to plastic scavengers.
“it is tough to get a kilogramme of plastic because plastic is light. This makes the job very tough. We also work deep into the night, anything can happen to you but this is how you make money,” Melvin says.
“The monies are very low unless you strike a deal with a buyer to supply them everyday. But this is the only way we can make money these days,” he said.
Until the two brothers get better buyers, they will continue to toil through the night for their next meal.