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 WIEGO


February 27, 2022

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Waste pickers' delegation attend UNEA for the first time and demand to be included in negotiations of the international treaty on plastics
Written by WIEGO. 02/26/2022

A new legally binding international treaty on plastic pollution will be discussed at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). Globalrec’s delegation of Waste picker representatives will attend the event for the first time and will demand recognition and meaningful inclusion of their views in discussions, negotiations, and implementation methodology.

More than 20 million people in the world work as waste pickers (ILO 2013.). They are the largest workforce in the recycling chain and recover a higher proportion of recyclable materials than formal waste management systems. This year, a delegation of waste pickers from the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec) will participate in the United Nations Environment Assembly.

In the context of UNEA 2022, waste pickers’ organizations from several countries will call for recognition in an international legally binding instrument on plastics pollution.  “Recycling without waste pickers is garbage. In view of the planned negotiation on a global treaty on plastics, we demand the meaningful inclusion and recognition of waste pickers”, reads part of Globalrec´s official position paper. Their delegation’s official agenda also includes having lunch on Saturday with Mr. Espen Barth Eide, President of UNEA and Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, along with local waste picker comrades and government representatives. The delegation is set to attend UNEA’s meetings to propose, among other topics, seven concrete actions to ensure an inclusive Assembly:

  1. Recognize the role of waste pickers as an integral part of the plastic pollution solution (recalling International Labor Conference (ILC) Recommendation, 2015 (nº 204)).
  2. Ensure the representation of waste pickers in the prospective UNEA Plastics Treaty processes, and safeguard their interest in the management of plastic waste.
  3. Facilitate the direct participation of waste pickers and their organizations as critical stakeholders in the preparation of relevant national laws and regulations, (such as national action plans for plastic pollution, waste management, circular economy and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)).
  4. Mandate fair compensation and risk protection, 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.

The participation at UNEA becomes even more important due to its timing: on March 1st it’s commemorated the International Waste Pickers’ Day, in memory of the massacre in Colombia in 1992, in which 11 workers were brutally killed at the Universidad Libre de Barranquilla (University of Barranquilla).  For the past 29 years since this tragic event, waste pickers/recyclers have continued fighting for recognition of their work. “Recycling without waste pickers is garbage” is the motto that symbolizes the struggle of the more than 20 million waste pickers, catadores, recicladores, pepenadores, récupérateurs, cartoneros, reclaimers, zabaleen, gancheros, buzos, barequeros, guajeros, minadores, thawis, clasificadores, buceadores, recolectores, who make a living from recycling in the world.

This year, Globalrec will release a campaign around the motto “Recycling without waste pickers is garbage”, with a video featuring waste pickers from all around the globe, to raise even more awareness to their fight. The campaign will also feature the launch of their Extended Producer Responsibility official position, which was recently endorsed by hundreds of allies and organizations.

Globalrec is a networking process that connects and supports thousands of waste picker organizations in over 28 countries covering mainly Latin America, Asia and Africa. Supported by Women in Informal Economy: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO),  Globalrec  has taken waste pickers to the world stage at international climate change conferences and events to highlight the need for global policies that help, not hinder, their work.

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