The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
Supported by Logo WIEGO

by Leslie Vryenhoek

From April 27-29, waste pickers from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe participated in the First Global Strategic Workshop in Pune, India . This workshop was hosted by KKPKP, a trade union of waste pickers in Pune, and SWaCH on behalf of the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, with support from WIEGO and the Inclusive Cities project.

Representatives in attendance came from waste pickers’ organizations across India and in Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mali, Nepal, the Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, The Philippines and Uruguay (a full list of participants is included in the report, available online).

The workshop’s objectives were:

  1.  to develop a common understanding across continents of terms and concepts such as integration and inclusion; regulated and formal; public, private and public-private partnership; etc.
  2. to share details and analysis of Solid Waste Management models, including logistics, genesis, roles and responsibilities, revenue, technical and political realities; and advantages/disadvantages of various models
  3. to discuss current and emerging threats and global trends toward models that exclude waste pickers, including examining the genesis and reasons/rationale for these trends, and the arguments against them
  4. to examine policies and legal provisions that enable inclusive or exclusive SWM models
  5. to explore actual or potential advocacy efforts that can enable inclusive models and ensure their sustainability

The workshop offered waste picker participants a chance to share their realities, their challenges and their solutions, and to formulate new ideas. In addition, allies and supporters from WIEGO, GAIA, WASTE, and MIT were at the workshop to facilitate and learn from the discussions. Considerable time was spent describing and discussing various models of inclusion, and what’s working in different circumstances. Concurrent with the workshop, interviews were conducted with select participants from different regions, and case studies or snapshots of how waste is handled in their location are being developed. These will be made available soon.

In exploring threats to their livelihood, the waste pickers found considerable common ground, and determined that the greatest threats across all continents are privatization of access to waste (and the related move of final waste disposal systems toward incineration and waste-to-energy schemes) and government corruption. The need to rely on middlemen rather than selling directly to industry, declining prices, and a lack of adequate equipment and space to do the work were also identified as challenges. Discussion on solutions focused on the need for waste pickers to be recognized and included in solid waste management systems. To achieve this they need strong, democratic organizations, improved relationships, especially with municipal bodies, adequate research (e.g. financial figures) to help frame arguments for inclusion, and more visibility for the important work of waste pickers. As often happens, some of the most important conversations took place off the record, as waste pickers from different places talked through their realities, shared their knowledge, and forged bonds.

What emerged in the workshop most clearly was the need for more communication and knowledge sharing at the global level and among local groups, so that waste pickers can benefit from the experiences and creative solutions of each other, while building an international sense of solidarity.

Find more information:

Information about the workshop and the participating organizations can also be found in the May 2012 Alliance of Indian Wastepickers (AIW) newsletter.

You can download this report (in English).

This narrative report was made by Leslie Vryenhoek (WIEGO), revised and edited by Chris Bonner, Federico DeMaria, Lucia Fernandez and Laxmi Narayan. Designed by Pablo Rey Mazón.