The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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exequiel estay

Exequiel Estay during Nicaraguan Conference, 2012. Pic by Jorge Meoni

By: Exequial Estay, Secretariat of Communications, Red Lacre

In 2008, during the closing ceremony of the first world conference of grassroots waste pickers, it was announced that Waste Picker World Day would be celebrated on March 1st.

Based on a passionate discussion to defend the rights of men and women who earn their living from waste picking, and to honour the memory of Colombian waste pickers who were murdered by professionals from the University of Barranquilla in order to steal their organs, it was established that this date should be used to highlight the work carried out by waste pickers around the world.

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.

After centuries of stories that reveal the numerous ways in which the alternatives of recycling and reusing have been transformed into sources of livelihood, today, through the strength of organizing, the organizers have been integrated into the logic of solid waste management, from the local to the national levels.

A shining star has transformed in the last few years in the organization of world-wide waste pickers: Scenarios of climate change, the recognition of waste pickers as workers, the promotion of the rights of female waste pickers, etc.

Another shining star that illuminates the struggle of the last few years is our integration into the communications realm in order to promote our work, always opting to find ways to overcome poverty and transform the image of our work into a bastion of dignity and entrepreneurship.

I have been fortunate to share experiences with waste pickers from all continents, and I have discovered that cultures, languages, colour of skin, etc., are not elements that differentiate the struggle amongst peoples to achieve a better standard of living

It is worth mentioning that these last few years have provided a platform for waste pickers around the world to assert their presence and reiterate their commitment to construct a future for their families, their countries, and the planet.  And this coming March 1st will not be the exception.

Through our social capital, we invite all citizens of the world to remove the veils that blur their vision and acknowledge the work being performed by the men and women who engage in waste picking activities every day.  We also thank all those who have already recognized and understood the importance of our work.

The Latin American Network of Waste Pickers, from its corporate image, shares and conveys a clear message: “there are no boundaries for those who struggle.”  This message gets even more powerful on March 1st.