Over 15 million people make a living collecting, sorting, recycling, and selling materials that someone else has thrown away. Vital actors in the informal economy, waste pickers provide widespread benefits to their communities, their municipalities, and the environment. In many countries, waste pickers supply the only form of solid waste management. However, they often face low social status, deplorable living and working conditions, and little support from local governments.
Waste pickers, known for their independence and individualism, are increasingly motivated to organize and fight for recognition and a place within formal solid waste management systems. They are organizing in many different ways – cooperatives, associations, companies, unions, micro-enterprises. Some are even forming “women only” organizations in order to better confront gender inequalities.
Organizing benefits waste pickers by accomplishing the following: raising social status and self-esteem; improving members’ incomes and quality of life, in part by circumventing middlemen; improving working conditions and contributing to better health quality; facilitating the development of networks; providing institutional frameworks for hiring of waste pickers for local bodies/firms; preventing harassment and violence; and eliminating child labour in waste picking.
Just some of Inclusive Cities’ publications and tools are highlighted below to help develop strong waste picker organizations.