In this video taken at the Waste and Citizenship Festival in France, Roberto Prates Reis, National Movement of Waste Pickers (MNCR), talks about the reality of waste pickers (called “biffins”) in France, and compares them to similar struggles in Brazil.
Waste pickers’ associations from seven cities in Bolivia that participated in the second national conference, marched to demand the passage of a law that recognizes them as workers and gives them the right to social security benefits.
On September 14, Costa Rican waste pickers hosted their First Waste Pickers Conference, in the city of San Jose. More than 100 recicladores from around the country participated, according to the newspaper La Nación. Their stated objective is to dignify the livelihoods of the families that collect recyclables.
In the city of Bogotá, Colombia, waste pickers of the Recyclers’ Association of Bogota (ARB) have been organizing themselves for more than two decades. ARB is one of the oldest independent waste picker-run associations in the world. But the association and its 2,500 members are not being recognized by the current municipal government of Bogotá. Their livelihoods are threatened by the interests of big companies and members of the government who are trying to take over the profitable business of solid waste management.
The South African Waste Picker’s Association (SAWPA) is in solidarity with waste pickers across the globe. We would like to commemorate the day of remembrance of all waste pickers around the world who die on the streets or landfills. Those Men and Women who we witness everyday being brutalized, beaten to death, shot, run over by trucks while trying to earn a living through waste recycling.
Global Waste Pickers’ Day is celebrated on March 1 in memory of the massacre in Colombia in which 11 workers were brutally killed. For the past 20 years since this tragic event, waste pickers/recyclers have continued fighting for recognition of their work.
Meeting other informal recyclers from around the world during COP 17 and Global Recyclers’ Day shows me that we are being recognised world-wide and that our challenges are universal. It is also an incentive for me to continue working hard in this job.” Victoria Bubu
That day of 2008, in the outskirts of Bogota, the joyful applause of the 600 participants from more than 34 countries fused with the sounds of the rain that fell to accompany this historic moment for all waste pickers. It was us, waste pickers, who defined that we deserved to celebrate a world day whereby all continents would come together for the blistered hands and broken-down backs caused by the work performed to recycle the materials that society discard.
The village of Gouy-Gui burned Thursday, January 19 and almost 70 waste pickers have lost their possessions. Our partners came to us and even the Minister of Public Health came to see the site of the fire.
In the 1990s the Tshwane municipality in South Africa engaged in a number of failed projects with waste pickers. These included a project that hired waste pickers to make crafts out of recyclable material. It also included at a private company with interests in waste management helping waste pickers to set up cooperatives and run buy-back centres for the cooperatives. However the positive that came out of these failures was that waste pickers formed committees on dumps and this provided the base for independent organizing. But what lessons and openings for organisation emerged in this period?
A meeting in Dakar included delegates from countries across Africa such as Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, Niger, Rwanda, Congo, Togo, Burkina Faso and Chad. Participants discussed key problems such as child labour, waste pickers paying to collect waste instead of being paid, lack of knowledge of rights, lack of local government capacity to manage waste, and the privatization of waste collection.
Quite simply waste pickers want to see real, immediate, concrete improvements in their lives. They also want to feel a sense of their own power. In experiencing this power, waste pickers will find they change important power relationships. Every waste picker knows what they need to fight for and what would make a difference in their lives. So there are many reasons to organize but how to go about this? The first step is to build and maintain a democratic organization.