Global Waste Picker’s Day: A Short History

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Why should all Inclusive Cities celebrate Global Waste Picker’s Day?  This post, from the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, explains: 

International Waste Pickers’ Day is celebrated on March 1 in memory of the massacre in Colombia in which 11 workers were brutally killed at the Universidad Libre de Barranquilla (University of Barranquilla). 

In March of 1992, in the Universidad Libre Seccional Barranquilla (Barranquilla University) in Colombia, 11 dead bodies were found.  The victims had been beaten and shot. All of the victims were informal waste pickers, and they had been murdered by university employees.

The waste pickers had been tricked by university employees to enter the building with the intent of recycling. Once inside, they were beaten and shot with the purpose of selling their bodies for research and organ trafficking. A survivor who pretended to be dead lived to tell the police about what had happened. In memory of this massacre – and in reponse to poor working conditions that we struggle to improve, and to the hostility we face on many levels from society – we declare March 1 the Global Waste Pickers’ Day.

Waste pickers have made huge advancements, becoming recognized and valued, becoming independent and growing their solidarity. In the past, people who worked with recyclable materials were undervalued and disrespected. After years of organizing and growth, today waste pickers are recognized for the role they play in recycling and for being important social agents, through their associations, cooperatives, movements, unions. Their struggles have guaranteed work spaces and infrastructure, machines and equipment, social technologies but most importantly, national, continental and global alliances. We know there is much much more to do – but certain of our victory, we will continue to walk firmly together.

We also remember that waste pickers are facing global threats – both against their organization and towards the environment. These threats include the privatization of solid waste, the closure of open dumps and landfills without the inclusion of waste pickers, and incineration. All waste pickers should understand, debate and fight against these threats. The waste pickers that are still not recognized should strengthen their struggles and seek the experience and support of waste pickers that have made significant advancements, sewing the fabric of solidarity that holds us together as a movement.

For the past 21 years since this tragic event, waste pickers/recyclers have continued fighting for recognition of their work. “There are no borders for those who fight,” is the slogan that symbolizes the struggle of the more than 15 million waste pickers,catadores, recicladores, pepenadores, churequeros, cartoneros, zabaleen, gancheros, buzos, barequeros, guajeros, minadores, thawis, cirujas, clasificadores, buceadores, recolectores who make a living from recycling in the world.

It is with this slogan and the organization of waste pickers as the motor force that we celebrate the Global Waste Pickers’ Day.

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