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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February 22, 2022

This declaration was read by Soledad Mella, representative of the Global Alliance of Waste pickers and president of the Asociación Movimiento Nacional de Recicladores de Chile (ANARCH), during the 5th UNEA Plenary session, thattook place on the 28th and 1st of March, 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Know more about the Global Alliance activities at the fifth session of the UNEA!

Call for the Meaningful Inclusion and Recognition of “Waste-pickers/Reclaimers and other Informal Waste Actors” in the discussions, negotiations, and implementation of a new Internationally Legally Binding Instrument on Plastic Pollution 

Declaration for the the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly

There is a threat to the planet that calls us to urgently take charge of it. Not only looking to the future, but above all to the present. Although plastic represented an advance in human development, today it is a dangerous waste, which leads our planet and the beings that live on it to human and environmental destruction.

The question we must ask ourselves: Is it and was it the plastic’s fault or the indiscriminate way that the industry and the great powers have had in this situation? The truth is that when we answer this question, we will be able to move forward on many more issues than just the pain that plastic has caused.

We are 20 million recyclers in the world, in my country we are about 18 million inhabitants; then we could say that we are a country of recyclers, that in each one of its nations we have taken care of plastic.

We are the women and men who have given value to a waste that you all discarded, reintegrating it into the productive chain of the circular economy that is so much talked about today.

Today, for the first time, we see millions of men and women concerned about this, the misnamed garbage (plastic), and we are really glad that this is so. But there is a human group that has done it before starting from an economic necessity and today knowing the important environmental contribution of our trade, recyclers should be recognized as the first link in this environmental chain. We have done this work through our trade without any payment, living off the garbage and becoming part of it as many have seen us, falling into discrimination and marginalization. –

The responsibility of plastic and its consequences brings us together in this place, where for the first time, grassroots recyclers can make our work visible, and we believe it is essential to raise 7 points that should be a priority for the nations to consider

  1. Recognize the role of waste-pickers as an integral part of the plastic pollution solution throughout  the negotiation process, recalling the International Labor Conference (ILC) Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204) on “Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy”
  2. Ensure the representation of waste-pickers in the prospective UNEA Plastics Treaty processes, and safeguard our interest in plastics waste management,
  3. Facilitate the direct participation of waste-pickers, and our organizations and economic units as critical stakeholders in the preparation of national laws and regulations that affect us, such as national action plans for plastics pollution, waste management, circular economy, and Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR).
  4. Mandate fair compensation and risk protection to waste-pickers for our work in plastic waste management, with statutorily constituted monitoring and reporting mechanisms to verify compliance.
  5. Establish and secure the legal framework for the just transition of waste-pickers into newer roles, and involve us in any just transition to newer systems, materials, collection, recycling, and distribution options with respect to plastics.
  6. Reduce and phase out the carcinogenic and toxic substances or compounds in the plastics to ensure safe plastics waste management. Encourage the replacement of non-recyclable packaging with recyclable or reusable packaging.
  7. Call on member states to institute Extended Producers Responsibility norms which prescribe corporations and producers who are responsible for plastics pollution to partner with the waste-pickers and waste-pickers’ organizations for plastic waste management and to take into consideration the EPR position of the Global Alliance of Waste-pickers.

Finally, we call on all nations to take responsibility today and not tomorrow for the continent of plastic that exists today, to seek real and concrete solutions to solve this great problem that involves all of us, but especially the producers and their nations. Humanity has said enough is enough and we have taken action.

The Extended Producer Responsibility legislation talks about a key principle for the producer, which is “the polluter pays”, and many are doing it, but who will stop the contamination? For this reason, we believe it is essential not to continue writing agreements that will not be fulfilled, but to comply with the agreements that are already written and to supervise and severely punish non-compliance with them.

We have been in charge for more than four generations of recyclers and today we demand our rightful place and the necessary investment and support so that we can really meet the goals and achieve a real impact on the environment. we are the lowest quintile of this society, we are the consequence of economic models that have impoverished the world, we are the ones who under our need to perform the noblest but dirtiest work “to take care of your garbage by recovering and placing raw materials in the recycling industry, avoiding the overexploitation of natural resources, ending the linear economy and creating the circular economy.

We are the face of recycling in the world, we are the hands that clean the world, we are the real heroes of the planet and nothing you try to do without recyclers is going to work.

Because recycling without waste pickers is garbage.