Inclusive Waste Management


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:


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.