Environmental Change Makers
In developing countries, millions of workers collect, sort, process, parcel and sell what others have cast aside. Some turn waste into new products. Tons of material is diverted from landfills. And recycling reduces emissions 25 times more than incineration does.
According to UN Habitat, waste pickers supply most or all of the solid waste collection in many cities in developing countries with low costs to municipal budgets.
The Right to Waste
But waste pickers’ livelihoods are threatened as cities privatize solid waste management or adopt approaches like incineration. Waste pickers often face discrimination and harassment by authorities and the public. They can be ignored in public policy processes.
Saving Cities Money, Protecting the Environment
By incorporating waste pickers into modern solid waste management systems, urban planners can save cities money and enhance environmental protections – while supporting livelihoods for some of the world’s poorest workers. Promising examples include:
- In New Delhi, the NGO Chintan and the waste pickers’ association Safai Sena worked with the Ghaziabad Municipality to establish a waste collection contract for 20,000 households. The organizations also created a waste collection project at the New Delhi Railway station. Chintan has helped secure Safai Sena’s right to safely collect e-waste. According to Chintan, informal recyclers collect 15-20% of the city’s waste each year and recycle virtually all materials. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions by nearly one million metric tons of TCO2 per year. It also saves the city money: Chintan has calculated that if the city were to pay employees for this work, it would cost it over US $300,000/day.
- In Bogota after many years of the Asociación Cooperativa de Recicladores de Bogotá’s (ARB) continuous effort to change government policies and practices, the city adopted several components of a proposal for inclusive solid waste management. Bogota’s solid waste management model has shifted from a burial model to a mixed model that places greater emphasis on recycling – one that recognizes and remunerates waste pickers. In fact, by January 2014, Bogota was compensating 5,000 waste pickers for their work. In Diadema, the municipality has paid waste pickers’ cooperatives the same amount per ton of recyclables they collect as it pays to private contractors that collect domestic waste.
Creating Systemic Change
Changes to policies and practices around waste pickers and the informal economy have also occurred on a more systemic level. These WIEGO and partner publications outline how these changes have come about:
- The Policy Briefs on the case of Belo Horizonte, Brazil shows the multiple dimensions of how waste pickers have been integrated into municipal waste management in this city and more broadly in Brazil.
- Recycling in Belo Horizonte, Brazil – An Overview of Inclusive Programming (WIEGO Policy Brief No. 3)
- Integrating Informal Workers into Selective Waste Collection: The Case of Belo Horizonte, Brazil (WIEGO Policy Brief No. 4)
- The Municipal Waste and Citizenship Forum: A Platform for Social Inclusion and Participation (WIEGO Policy Brief No. 5)
- Overview of the Legal Framework for Inclusion of Informal Recyclers in Solid Waste Management in Brazil (WIEGO Policy Brief No. 6)
- Integrating Waste Pickers into Municipal Solid Waste Management in Pune, India (WIEGO Policy Brief No. 8) outlines how the partnership in solid waste management between the SWaCH cooperative and the city of Pune developed.
- Refusing to be Cast Aside: Waste Pickers Organizing around the World contains many of the current best practices in policy and organizing across the globe.
- Paying Waste Pickers for Environmental Services: A Critical Examination of Options Proposed in Brazil (WIEGO Technical Brief No. 6) A key issue for those wanting to pursue a more inclusive approach is considering different payment options. This brief reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the different options that Brazil has considered.
- Waste Pickers and Carbon Finance: Issues to Consider (WIEGO Technical Brief No. 7) A controversial issue is whether waste pickers should be pursuing carbon credits or not. This technical brief outlines key issues that waste picker organisations should consider.explores the feasibility of MBOs pursuing carbon finance.
Learning to Work with Waste Pickers
To help planners and policymakers develop a working knowledge of waste pickers and the informal economy, WIEGO has been developing research and recommendations available for download on this site.
- The Informal Economy Monitoring Study offers quantitative and qualitative findings on waste pickers (forthcoming).
- Good Practices offer urban policy approaches and organizational practices by sector that have resulted in securer livelihoods for informal workers.
- Policy Briefs offer broad practices and ideas that offer contributions to livelihood-centered development.