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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Written by Mariel Vilella


December 19, 2012

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By Mariel Vilella – GAIA Climate Policy Campaigner

Waste pickers in the Global South have something to celebrate. After intense campaigning in the last two years by GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative) and the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) (see “Information on CDM” below) will withdraw support to projects that cannot provide evidence that they are not harming recycling efforts.

The CDM has up to now supported technologies such as landfill gas systems and waste incinerators which threaten waste pickers’ more environmentally friendly recycling. Grassroots recyclers have long argued that CDM projects bury and burn waste that they could recycle or compost. These projects reduce waste pickers’ incomes, threaten their livelihoods and increase greenhouse gas emissions. The new CDM rule acknowledges these arguments saying that project developers seeking CDM’s support must provide evidence of no harm to recycling when they put forward a proposal for an incinerator, a landfill gas system or a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant.

But how will project developers do this? Will they visit waste pickers’ cooperatives and take notes on their recycling rates? How will they manage to argue that an incinerator or a landfill gas system does not damage recycling?

Some project developers have systematically ignored the informal recycling sector in the past. This means that the CDM will have to formulate further regulations and it will have to follow-up to make sure developers comply with the new rule.

To monitor the new rule it is hugely important to organize at grassroots level to defend waste pickers’ rights.  Waste picker organisations must be fully aware that they can now report any project negatively impacting on recycling as against the rules.

Information on CDM

Climate policy attempts to reduce methane emissions from waste have mainly focused on the United Nations-administered Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM was created to help rich countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Basically, the CDM allows rich countries to buy pollution permits from poor countries,

In the case of waste the CDM is not doing a great job. Considerable evidence indicates that the projects approved by the CDM are directly undermining communities and the environment. This is because rich countries buy pollution permits from poor countries which have low green house gas to escape from their commitments to reduce harmful emissions.

So far, the CDM has mostly supported the expansion of ‘waste-to-energy’ technologies such as waste incinerators and landfill gas facilities, which are a huge threat to waste pickers.

Further Reading:

The European Union’s Double Standards on Waste and Climate Policywhich shows problems with CDM-backed Municipal Solid Waste projects

CDM Case Studies: The Clean Development Mechanism in Solid Waste Managementshow how landfills and incinerators increase greenhouse gas emissions and toxic emissions, reduce recycling and displace waste pickers who offer better alternatives.

GAIA and the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers have engaged in campaigning actionsover the last three yearsinvolving public interventions, cyber actions and policy revisions.