Each year, eight million metric tons of plastic pour into the world’s oceans caused largely by ineffective solid waste management systems of rapidly urbanizing coastal cities in developing countries. The situation would be even more dire without the efforts of millions of waste pickers, many of whom operate in the informal sector.
They collect and recycle materials that would otherwise go into landfills and illegal dumpsites or leak into the environment. “Despite their absence from most urban-development plans, waste pickers remain some of the most effective, affordable, and necessary waste managers and recyclers on earth, protecting both land and sea,” according to Taylor Cass Talbott, Reducing Waste in Coastal Cities Project Officer with Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing & Organizing.
Despite their contributions, waste pickers often find themselves marginalized, stigmatized, and unappreciated, laboring in difficult, unsafe conditions and without adequate protections. As part of our broader efforts to combat ocean plastics pollution, USAID is supporting waste pickers across Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
USAID’s Municipal Waste Recycling Program is providing training and equipping waste collectors, strengthening Independent Waste Collector organizations, and supporting their advocacy efforts.
Waste-picker performance is affected by the policy environment in which they operate.
Traditional policies that repress waste-pickers systematically hurt their collection rates, wages, and working conditions.
Governmental support improves the performance of waste-pickers by increasing their economic, social, and environmental outcomes.
Inexpensive policy measures working toward a more organized picture of waste-pickers dramatically increase their sustainable performance.
Our empirical results suggest a positive association between the level of government support and waste-pickers’ sustainable performance. Consequently, further positive government intervention, particularly in supporting a stronger structural organization for the waste-picker recycling system, is advocated as the primary policy recommendation of this paper.
SWaCH Across Bharat is a short documentary film that explores the work of the SWaCH Co-operative, (a co-operative of waste pickers in Pune, India).
SWaCH Across Bharat, offers viewers one model of waste management that is not only good for the environment & financially efficient, but also one that safeguards waste-pickers’ rights.
Weaving in reflections of Supriya Bhadakwad (a waste-picker and member of SWaCH Cooperative), Lakshmi Narayan (a founder of SWaCH) and Varsha Chitale (a citizen whose apartment is serviced by SWaCH), the film brings together different perspectives on why the SWaCH model really works.
SWaCH Across Bharat is Directed by Lakshmi Anantnarayan, produced by TERI and supported by the Films Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India.
Informal and formal sectors of the economy work side-by-side in many African nations – but can they work together?
APRIL 11, 2017 JOHANNESBURG—In another lifetime, Louis Mahlangu was an electrician. It was a good job, challenging and respectable, the kind of profession that could make his family proud.
There was just one problem.
“There was no work,” he says. No matter how hard he looked, Mr. Mahlangu was barely finding enough jobs to scrape by. Then his sister invited him to tag along to her job. The hours were good, she promised, and the pay – well, it was better than anything he was likely to earn replacing wiring in suburban houses.
And so he put on a pair of rubber rain boots, hiked to the top of a squelching mountain of Johannesburg’s garbage, and began digging for plastic.
Twenty-two years later, he’s still there, along with thousands of others like him, collecting dinged Coke bottles and pulverized yogurt cartons discarded by the city’s residents and selling them on to private recycling companies. At his peak, Mahlangu says, he made up to $1000 each month, a respectable wage in a country where the newly proposed minimum wage is around $250 per month.
From small-scale traders to a company processing hundreds of tonnes of e-waste, we explore Nairobi’s relationship with a burgeoning waste stream and visit the people turning it into a resource. Photographs and words by Nathan Siegel.
John Obanda, who owns a repair shop, fixes a broken motherboard. Obanda sources items from collectors who work in nearby landfill sites and is one of thousands of traders who buy and recycle discarded electrical and electronic goods in Nairobi.
E-waste has ballooned in the city in the past decade due to rising mobile phone penetration and a burgeoning middle class.
Sophana works through the night sorting through garbage in one of Phnom Penh’s busiest bar districts.
PHNOM PENH: On any typical night around the heaving bars full of tourists and female workers, street pickers lurk in the shadows.
They are children, their parents and the elderly. They are grimy, hungry and desperate.
Phon Sophana is one of them. He and his family, including his wife and two young children, live on the street, foraging a living by searching through discarded waste for items of value, normally plastic bottles and cans.
They work through the night, mostly in the darkness, but all around the clock if they have the stamina.
“There are a lot of competitors,” the 31-year-old said. “If I can go early enough, it would be lucky. If the others go before me, they would collect everything first.
Objective – To know the elements of work, health, and living conditions of women who pick recyclable waste and are members of a waste cooperative in a town of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Method – This is a qualitative, exploratory and descriptive study with seven subjects. Data were collected through participative observation, semi structured interview, and a focus group from July to August of 2013. The data were subjected to content analysis.
Results – The following thematic categories emerged: Women’s work, informality and precariousness; Experiences of job satisfaction; and Working conditions and health: experiences with accidents, illness and health services.
Conclusion – It was concluded that the women who collect recyclable material are exposed to precarious work conditions and potential health risks, such as work overload, accidents, illness, and social insecurity, and that nurses are responsible for promoting actions that ensure the health and inclusion of these workers.
At Al Huseyniyat landfill, Syrian refugees salvage recyclables illegally. Efforts to formalise their work offer hope
Muhammed Abu Najib Temeki, 48, a father of nine from Deraa in Syria, pushes a cart of recyclable waste towards an Oxfam recycling centre in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Photograph: Sam Tarling/Oxfam
Without warning the bulldozer accelerates, cutting through mounds of waste at Al Huseyniyat landfill in northern Jordan. A lingering stench intensifies as the machine scoops up an armful of rubbish, discharging clouds of flies over a group of people rifling through bin bags nearby.
No one notices the disturbance. Their gazes are trained downwards as they sift through the morning’s waste. “We look for plastic, aluminium, metal, clothes – anything we can sell or keep, or sometimes eat,” says Mohammed Ali, an Egyptian who makes a living salvaging recyclables from the site.
Ali manages a team of 15 waste pickers – men, women and children – most Syrians from nearby Za’atari refugee camp. They earn around 10 Jordanian dinar (£10.90) a day. “It’s not a lot but I make enough to manage on,” says Nawras Sahasil, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee who supports his wife and two children on the 250 dinars a month he earns from the landfill.
Like most people here, Sahasil does not have a work permit. While the Jordanian government has gone some way towards easing restrictions on employment for Syrian refugees, the vast majority are still working illegally. Now, a number of organisations in Jordan are looking to formalise the work of waste pickers and harness their role as recyclers to address the country’s mounting rubbish crisis, while developing sustainable solutions for processing waste in the future.