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

Check translation:

Election of new authorities, greetings from sister and allied organizations, tribute to our history and report from the Acting General Secretary.

On the second day of the Congress, the first elections in the history of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers were held. The following persons were elected as office bearers: 

  • Severino Francisco de Lima Junior, President
  • Sushila Sable, Vice President
  • Maditlhare Koena, Treasurer

For the first time in a congress, in the history of the informal economy networks, electronic vote was enabled for those waste picker delegates that could not make it to the Congress for visa and migration related issues.

From left to right, the three elected office bearers: Severino Francisco de Lima Junior, President; Sushila Sable, Vice President; and Maditlhare Koena, Treasurer.

Severino is the Secretary of International Relations of the National Union of Catadores and Catadoras of Recyclable Materials (Unicatadores) in Brazil. He expressed,  “Under my leadership, I promise to maintain maximum transparency in decision-making, financial matters and all tasks undertaken. I have maintained a respectful and inclusive approach towards all member organizations, recognising the diversity of our organizational strategies, a stance I promise to maintain during my term of office, strengthening the level of participation from all continents. I will dedicate myself to advancing the cause of including waste pickers in the text of the plastics treaty and in the discussions on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) at the global level. I assure you of my commitment to advance the waste pickers’ agenda and advocate for a just transition in forums such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO).” 

Sushila is the Vice President of the Parisar Bhagini Vikas Sangha (Mumbai) in India. She shared, “With my dedication to promote the rights and interests of waste pickers, I am always monitoring changes in waste management policies at the local, national and international levels. It is with this commitment in mind that I take up my position as Vice President.

Maditlhare is Treasurer of the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA), South Africa. She shared, “Women lack support, but,  if we work in partnership, we can support each other. I know we still have a lot to learn. We have grown ourselves up and we are willing to do this: we want to grow the Alliance”.

Office bearers and executive council presentation at IAWP 2024 Congress.
Office bearers and regional executive council presentation at IAWP 2024 Congress.

In addition, Congress ratified the Executive Board, composed of the following members (see full list on our website under Central Coordination Structure).

Tribute to our history

Tribute to our history panel at IAWP Congress 2024 in Buenos Aires.
Tribute to our history panel at IAWP Congress 2024 in Buenos Aires.

As a tribute to our history, the history of waste pickers, from the first conference of waste pickers in Bogotá in 2008 to the present day, the Congress held a tribute session to the journey to the present day. 

Silvio Ruiz (founder of ANR, Colombia), presented a video tribute to the lost leaders on behalf of all waste pickers, and recounted his arrival in this sector “without studies, without opportunities, we have created not only a job but a philosophy of life. Only people who reach into the rubbish and have taken leftover food to feed their families understand what we are talking about. Hundreds of thousands of waste pickers have been crushed to death in landfills, run over by vehicles, burned in landfill fires. We have built on the sacrifices of waste pickers.”

Marty Chen (board member and founder of WIEGO) paid tribute to the organizers and managers of this Alliance, including WIEGO consultants and academics who have worked for many years on research and organizing around the issue: She reflected, “You waste pickers want recognition and dignity- sincere congratulations on your struggles and achievements.”

Samuel LeCoeur (director of Amelior, France), as a representative of the waste pickers’ organization, presented an interpretation of the history of waste picking, using documents, photographs and historical artistic and musical pieces about waste pickers, “biffins” in French, from the Middle Ages to the present day: “Recycling is an activity that has existed since ancient times, part of our urban life. It is a dignified profession and we have rights. Nothing is lost, everything is transformed,” he noted. See slides that follow.

Regine Assoumou (from Amelior, France) recounted her life story: after arriving in France, where she had to travel for health reasons, she discovered that by recovering objects from rubbish dumps she could survive. She shared, “One person told me that he was organizing demonstrations to be able to sell legally: he was from the Amelior organization. After so many years, my message is that let’s work for the waste pickers of the past, present and future.”

Greetings from sister unions and organizations

Sisters unions salutes at IAWP 2024 congress.
Sisters unions salutes at IAWP 2024 congress.

A number of IAWP’s sister organizations and allies turned up for the second day of the event to greet participants. 

Carmen Britez, from International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF) remarked,  “It is a historic day, when the great responsibility of the leaders begins. It is important to work in unity, to go hand in hand with allies. We are sister networks, we are here to help each other, because we are all workers and we all need to be made visible by our governments and our allies.”  

Alberto Santana, Vice President of Streetnet International (SNI) shared “Street vendors and waste pickers are brothers in struggle. We must continue to unite our voices to demand what we have been denied. Informal workers represent the majority of the world’s labour: we are frontline workers. I leave you with our message: nothing for us, without us. Remember that the strength of an organisation lies in its internal unity”. 

Epifanía Espinola from Homenet International (HNI) further noted, “I want to express our strong support, from our organisation, to our fellow waste pickers. We share many similarities and issues. We fight for the recognition of our work, for social protection and other rights. Homenet and the Alliance are new networks, we have to act as a united front and we congratulate them on their achievements, in solidarity.” 

Luis Catalano, UCRUS Uruguay noted: “We ask the unions present to integrate wastepickers into their unions and we wish the new leadership well.”

Iván González, policy coordinator at the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) shared: “We congratulate this Congress and the elected authorities. It is very important for trade unionism that the various groups of informal workers are recognised as workers. It is essential to fight for more democratic and inclusive societies, and since informal workers are part of the international value chain, their rights are important. For this, united national and international action is important. 

The Government of Nigeria also sent a video greeting, sending congratulations and wishing long life to the Alliance.

Ali Mendillioglu (from the IAWP affiliate İSGDİDER, Turkey), who co-chaired the event with Lucía Fernandez, the IAWP acting general secretary, closed the day with this reflection: “We have fought for our rights but we know there is more work to be done: let’s continue to work together. If the Alliance wants to create its own history, we will create our own histories”.