Tag Archives: waste pickers

What we can learn from Brazil’s wastepickers

What we can learn from Brazil’s wastepickers | by Kyle Wiens

Excerpts: By the time the World Cup ends on July 13, experts estimate that World Cup spectators will generate a staggering 320 tons of trash. Enter the catadores—waste pickers who earn a living by collecting recyclables from the nation’s trash heap, men and women who will dig through the garbage and pick out each aluminum can, plastic bottle, and glass container. And while their jobs may seem humble, their sweat and solidarity are helping to transform Brazil into a true world power in recycling.

Illustrations by Ben Sanders

Illustrations by Ben Sanders

The movement to organize waste pickers in Brazil began in São Paulo in 1980, when the Catholic Church helped start the Association of Paper Pickers, but it only came into the spotlight nine years later, when association members began protesting on behalf of their right to collect material from public roadways. The association’s work inspired other cities around Brazil to start similar organizations, which (among other things) is helping to end child labor in Brazilian dumps.

A Future in Recycling

In 2009, filmmaker Sean Walsh spent a month following Claudinês Alvarenga, a carroceiro, or cart hauler, for his documentary Hauling. Alvarenga, a father of 27, drove the streets of São Paulo in an old Volkswagen bus, recovering materials from curbsides, businesses, and dumpsters. He fixed what he could, resold what was salvageable, and recycled all the rest.

“Haulers such as Claudinês and his family are the most vital and also the most marginalized group in this immense [recycling] industry,” Walsh says. “They are also the agents of a new environmental world order, which is growing ever more important to our sustainable survival.”

The truth is, catadores and carroceiros are remarkably good at what they do. Necessity has turned them into reuse masters, repair geniuses, and recycling experts. They can sort recyclables more precisely and comprehensively than a machine can, right down to different grades of paper. Because of catadores, Brazil is a world leader in recycling: The country has the highest recycling rates for used aluminum cans—around 98 percent—and is second in world for recycling PET, a plastic used in food packaging.

Waste not: Egypt’s refuse collectors regain role at heart of Cairo society

Waste not: Egypt’s refuse collectors regain role at heart of Cairo society | Source/complete article: The Guardian, March 27 2014 |

Excerpts – Zabaleen waste pickers are finally being re-integrated into the city’s services, a decade after they were sidelined.

A family at work in the Mokattam area of the Egyptian capital Cairo, where zabaleen collect, separate, sell or reuse rubbish. Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP

A family at work in the Mokattam area of the Egyptian capital Cairo, where zabaleen collect, separate, sell or reuse rubbish. Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP

For the waste pickers that have traditionally made a living sifting through the mountain of discarded litter that blights the streets of Cairo, there has been scant cause for celebration these past 10 years. Marginalised by a 2004 Mubarak goverment directive that placed household waste collection in the hands of multinationals, their existence has been one of ever increasing struggle for steadily declining return.

But change is afoot. Government acceptance that the corporatisation of waste disposal in Egypt‘s capital has been a resounding failure has paved the way for the formal integration of the zabaleen – who, for more than half a century, went door to door gathering the vast majority of household waste in Cairo – into the city’s official refuse collection system.

For a community that has served Cairo well, the government’s U-turn offers a deserved chance to change their lives for the better. Before 2004, the zabaleen would take the rubbish they collected back to their homes on the edge of the city, sort through it, and make a living from selling the salvaged materials to factories and wholesalers. The remaining organic waste would be fed to their pigs, whose meat also brought them a steady income.

But 10 years ago, this informal arrangement came to an abrupt end when the Mubarak government contracted four corporate firms to do the work instead – cutting the 65,000 zabaleen out of the process, and wrecking their collective livelihood. The aim was to professionalise the capital’s waste management.

Government officials now admit that approach was flawed from the start, and for the first time are starting to make the zabaleen‘s role official, giving them uniforms and vehicles.

“The others have failed, be they the government or the foreign companies, and now [the zabaleen] should get a turn, having been sidelined for so long,” said Laila Iskandar, Egypt’s environment minister, who has prioritised the issue since her appointment in July. “They are the people who have the longest experience in refuse collection.”

Cairo: Finding its own way in waste collection

Cairo: Finding its own way in waste collection – Danish Architecture Centre | Source/complete article: Sustainable Cities, Jan 2014

Excerpts – For decades, much of Cairo’s waste has been resourcefully collected and reused by a poor working class known as the Zabbaleen. After a failed attempt to modernise and sanitize this system by bringing in foreign waste-collecting companies, some major advantages to developing a sustainable, economically logical and uniquely Cairo waste-collecting system have become clear.

Skraldebyen Ezbet El Nakhl, Af Creap, 9. maj 2005, Flickr, Creative Commons, Foto # 13067241

Skraldebyen Ezbet El Nakhl, Af Creap, 9. maj 2005, Flickr, Creative Commons, Foto # 13067241

Since the 1950’s, a group of lower class garbage collectors known as the Zabbaleen have wandered the city of Cairo, Egypt, using donkey carts to pick up waste left on the streets. After bringing this waste to their homes that collectively make up Cairo’s “garbage city” the waste it is sorted and eventually turned into quilts, rugs, pots, paper, livestock food, compost, recycled plastic products such as clothes hangers, and much more. Reusing and recycling about 85% of all waste that they collect, the Zabbaleen have far surpassed the efficiencies of even the best Western recycling schemes, which, under optimal conditions, have only been able to reuse 70% of all material.

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Struggles and Victories: Waste Pickers on the Frontline

Struggles and Victories: Waste Pickers on the Frontline | Source: Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, Nov 21, 2012.

Struggles and victories: waste pickers on the frontline. October-November 2012 

Latin America (Red Lacre)

Waste pickers in Brasilia shutdown landfill for nine days in fight against public-private partnership (Brasilia – October 2012)

The waste pickers in the Brazilian capital showed vigor and conviction in demanding their rights and futures, going head on with the federal government and completely paralyzing a landfill (Lixão da Estrutural), transfer stations, and plants. The protest forced the government to reconsider a public-private partnership (PPP) — one which would have given a 30 year contract to one company for 5 billion US dollars. The National Movement (MNCR) demonstrated the strength of the people when they mobilize and work towards the transformation and future of our planet. Long live our struggle! Long live the MNCR! No to incineration!
Read the MNCR press release (in Portuguese)
Depois de nove dias de bloqueio, catador es liberam lixão do DF
Catadores fecham entrada de lixão

Another victory in Brazil: Minas Gerais to become the first state to compensate waste pickers for their environmental service (Brazil – October 2012)

Announced at the Waste and Citizenship Festival, waste pickers in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, will become the first to receive payment as environmental service providers. This has been an historical demand by the Brazilian National Movement of Waste Pickers (MNCR). Waste pickers will be paid according to the amount of recyclable material they collect at their cooperatives and associations. The number of associations registered has already reached 119 across all regions of the state, benefiting a total of 1,561 waste pickers. Read the MNCR press release (in Portuguese).

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WASHplus Weekly – Focus on Waste Pickers

Issue 75 October 19, 2012 | Focus on Waste Pickers

This week’s issue contains reports, videos and blog posts that discuss the health, environmental and other issues that affect waste pickers. According to the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, the term “waste pickers” can be broadly defined as people who reclaim reusable and recyclable materials from what others have cast aside as waste. 

In many countries, family-based enterprises in the solid waste informal sector account for most recycling of metal, paper, plastic, glass, and kitchen and garden waste. Without the activity of these micro-entrepreneurs, much more waste would end up in dumps or in the environment, but at the same time their conditions of work are difficult and unhealthy.

Please let WASHplus know at any time if you have resources to share for future issues of WASHplus Weekly or if you have suggestions for future topics. An archive of past Weekly issues is available on the WASHplus website. 

WASHplus Weekly – The informal sector and solid waste management

Issue 50 April 6, 2012 | Focus on the Informal Sector and Solid Waste Management

The informal waste sector provides a much needed service in the developing world; the work of this sector reduces waste in communities, increases the reclamation and reuse of materials, and helps to lower greenhouse gas emissions. This issue of the WASHplus Weekly contains recent reviews on the economics of the informal sector and the diseases and injuries that waste pickers endure. Also included are case studies from Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, the Philippines, and recent videos.

Please let WASHplus know at any time if you have resources to share for future issues of WASHplus Weekly or if you have suggestions for future topics. An archive of past Weekly issues is available on the WASHplus website. 

NY Times – Foundations Try to Legitimize India’s ‘Invisible Environmentalists’

May 16, 2011 – Sarasa Satish is a waste picker. Every morning, she starts promptly at 8:30 a.m. going door to door, collecting throwaway materials from houses in the Rajendra Nagar slums of Bangalore, India.

The neighborhood is crowded, with an average of about five people packed into each of its 4,000 households. Most are poor; some don’t have running water. A typical workday ends with her sorting out the recyclable material once she’s dumped the rejects, or non-recyclable waste. A few years ago, she would most likely have done that in a cramped alleyway.

But now she segregates the remaining plastics, paper and compostable material in a small neighborhood center built by CHF International, a humanitarian aid organization once called the Cooperative Housing Foundation. It has a large presence in developing countries.

There may be as many as 1.5 million waste pickers in India. Most make the equivalent of $2 a day. In Delhi, India’s largest city, waste pickers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 1 million tons a year, according to Chintan, a Delhi-based non-governmental agency. Globally, there are estimated to be 15 million waste pickers working in developing countries.

Although they reduce energy use and related emissions through recycling, the fruits of their labors are often ignored. That’s why some people refer to them as “invisible environmentalists.”

In Bangalore, recycling isn’t even regarded as a formal industry, even though the work is essential. Cities are rapidly expanding in India, but with city growth comes slum growth. India alone accounts for a third of the world’s poor, people making less than $2 a day.

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