The sustained high levels of unemployment in South Africa have resulted in an increase in the number of individuals entering the informal sector. This study provides a profile of twenty informal collectors who frequented a newly established multi-material buyback centre in the Durban central business district. All but one collector had come to the city in search of employment, with only four being successful in securing formal employment. Eleven collectors had dependants, who generally lived at their permanent home. Seven collectors had begun hawking as a result of having seen or heard about the buyback centre, while one collector had been trading cardboard for 21 years. Most did not understand the concept of ‘recycling’, but admitted that their activities led to a cleaner city. Recognition for this ‘service’ was requested in order to legitimise their activities in the eyes of the community. The income generated was variable. Several factors, including a fluctuating market price, have a considerable impact on the poverty status and vulnerability of these collectors.