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.