INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCE OF WASTE PICKERS

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

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We, waste pickers, are very diverse, but we also share so many similarities. Among them, unfortunately, there are the threats we face in our work, but also the ways that our organizations respond to those threats, said Françoise Gendron, from the Cooperative Les Valoristes (Canada) in his role as Moderator of the Day. 

He summarized the three sessions: from the basic defense of waste picker rights, to organizing for decent work and a just transition, to our global advocacy work.

Session 1: Defending our rights with dignity

“In this first panel, we explore the threats that waste pickers face to their rights as workers and as humans, and how some of our organizations and allies have responded in the defense of waste picker rights”, mentioned Nohra Padilla (ANR, Colombia), moderator of the panel. These were the main points analyzed: 

  • Both private and state-led violence, punishing or preventing waste pickers from carrying out their livelihoods. Women often face the most extreme forms of violence, including sexual violence.  
  • Arson attacks to homes and places of work, as well as being blamed for fires that naturally break out in dumpsites.  These fires kill people and destroy homes, materials, and access to places of work.  
  • Increasing restrictions on the usage of public space and the violence used to displace, as well as the criminalization of protesting.   
  • Globally, a lack of basic services like waste collection, which increases disproportionately the exposure to pollution and illness, and further stigmatizing our communities.
  • All of these challenges are compounded by climate change, which disproportionately affects the poor and, especially, those who also work outdoors or at sites with limited infrastructure.   

These threats are rooted in classism, racism, ableism, xenophobism, and entrenched legacies of colonialism and patriarchy- all of which have resulted in the deep stigmatization of waste picking and of the communities where waste pickers live.

Moderators: Nohra Padilla (National Association of Recyclers of Colombia, oldest organization in Latin America) and Amira El Halabi (IAWP staff, Africa Coordinator)

Panelists: 

  1. Sarika Vikas Karadkar (Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat-KKPKP, India), Police brutality, contracts for waste management, and provision of slum waste collection. See slides here.
  2. Alessandro Stillo (Rete ONU, Italy), Evictions from public space. See slides here.
  3. Katie Lindsay (Portland City government, OR, USA), Advocating at the city level for contracts that hire waste pickers in USA. See slides here.
  4. Alejandro Mena (ANARCH, Chile), Divine Dekonar (Kpone Landfill Waste Pickers Association, Ghana), and Graciela Mora (IAWP Communications), Fires affect waste pickers’ around the world. See slides here.
  5. Tania Espinosa (WIEGO), Human Rights perspective to defend waste pickers rights. See slides here.
  6. Nohra Padilla ANR, Colombia, Experiences in resisting threats. See slides here.

Session 2: Organizing for just transition

Building power to secure a just transition for waste pickers to both sustain and improve their work requires a range of strategies, including documenting the rights violations they face, and using data and other evidence to demonstrate their hardships as well as the value and impact of their work.  But also, organizing is often the most impactful long-term response to the threats.  Organizations have learned of the importance of growing their membership- at local, national, regional and international levels, so that they can demonstrate their power and influence governments for better public policies.  

Yet, they face a number of challenges, including:

  • Privatization and growing competition, including incineration and chemical recycling, compromising access to materials and contracts, and transforming the industry in ways that exclude them. 
  • The growing concentration of capital in the hands of a few, and the entry of fast moving consumer goods companies into the waste sector through policies like EPR
  • Exclusionary policies that don’t count them as stakeholders
  • The flooding of our industry with low quality, toxic materials that undermine their income and their health.
  • Lack of universal social protections
  • Lack of labor protections for informal or non-traditional organizations.  

Moderators: Pinakini Ben (SEWA, India): Welcome everyone, introduce the panel topic and Ananda Tan (Just Transition Alliance, North American region)

Speakers: 

  1. Pinakini Ben, SEWA (India, oldest union in the region/world). The change of the social solidarity economy through coops.  See slides here.
  2. Celeste Jaqueline Infante y Paulina Margarita Gonzalez (FACCyR, Argentina), How is waste picker salary composed? See slides here.
  3. Johnson Doe (Green Cooperative Society of Ghana), Use of WIEGO and IAWP greenhouse gas emissions calculator and toxicity of open burning. See slides here.
  4. Adja Mame Seyini Paye Diop (Bokk Diom, Senegal), Unionization and cooperativism. See slides here.
  5. Joaquin Etorena, (Argentina), ILO, Green Jobs. See slides here.

Session 3: Influencing the international agenda!

Over the past years, the global advocacy efforts of the IAWP have responded to the needs of our  affiliates. Our focus has been on several key areas: Firstly, we actively engaged with Extended Producer Responsibility  (EPR) policies, which significantly impact waste pickers worldwide.  Through our advocacy  and capacity-building efforts, we’ve influenced legislation and  implementation in numerous countries, reshaping global and national  discussions on effective EPR. The EPR position paper laid the foundations for  engagement in the plastics treaty negotiations. 

Moreover, our involvement in the UN Plastics Treaty has been pivotal in safeguarding waste pickers’ livelihoods worldwide. We’ve secured  provisions for a just transition and recognition of waste pickers’ role in the treaty, and we are shaping the treaty’s direction. Our Just Transition report offers valuable insights and recommendations for ongoing struggles.  During the plastics treaty negotiations, the IAWP forged strong alliances both in the Trade Union  movement, Indigenous Peoples and frontline communities, delivering joint interventions highlighting our firm belief in intersectional class solidarity. 

Additionally, we’ve actively participated in the International Labor Conference of the International Labor Organization, refining our stance on just transition. Concerning our engagement in climate change  policies, we developed a carbon emission reduction calculator to showcase the contribution of waste pickers. 

However, as our global influence expands, challenges emerge. We’ve  observed the co-optation of waste picker voices by corporate interests  and potential conflicts over representation. It’s crucial to maintain  clarity on our advocacy agenda and not become subservient to the agenda dictated by various vested interests. 

Moderators: Tessie Bul (Association of Waste Pickers of Lagos, Nigeria) and Kabir Arora (IAWP staff, Asia Pacific Coordinator) 

Speakers

  1. Carolina Urmeneta (Global Methane Hub, Director of circular economy for the Americas). Organic waste agenda and methane emission reduction agenda.  See slides here .
  2. Gonzalo Muñoz, High Level Climate Action Champion COP 25, Chile. See slides here .
  3. Alexandro Cardoso and María Mónica Da Silva, Unicatadores and Climate Change, with Sonia Días, WIEGO Brasil. See slides here .
  4. Indumathi (TSS, India) and Soledad Mella (ANARCH, Chile), Plastic Treaty IAWP Working Group reporting achievements and challenges. See slides here .
  5. Juan Pablo Celis, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) secretariat. See slides here .

Conclusion of the day

Taylor Cass Talbott, IAWP Advocacy Coordinator, shared the final reflections of the sessions. She mentioned the IAWP´s main focus areas: GGE Calculator, UN Plastics Treaty, ILO and Climate change. Read slides here.

Highlights in the INC deliberations: 

  • INC-1: member states from 30 countries refer to waste pickers, but just transition not yet on the table.  
  • INC-2: More than 100  member states expressing need for just transition
  • INC-3: Independent proposed article on just transition, and mentioned in other sections. Member States agreed to list the terms waste pickers and just transition for definition. Waste pickers mentioned in the just transition article of the draft treaty text.
  • INC-4: Broad support for just transition and waste pickers, with our demands repeated by member states.

Greenhouse Gas Calculator Results

  • 60,000 waste pickers of IAWP:  51,195,425 tonnes eCO2/year
  • 20 million waste pickers worldwide: 2,225,888,062 tonnes eCO2/year
  • Of the Nationally Determined Contributions, of the 198 countries that signed the Paris Accords, waste pickers globally contribute 4.3% of those emissions goals. 

Final reflections

Carolina Palacio, IAWP Organizational Development Officer, made a summary of the historic landmarks of the last years that have allowed the waste pickers voices to go very far in the public agenda. She finalized by giving extensive thanks to all the alliance´s staff that allowed the congress to be a success 

On behalf of Marty Chen, from WIEGO, Sofía Treviño congratulated the Alliance for the Congress and the live transmission of the final session. 

Severino Francisco de Lima Junior, President of the IAWP, closed the congress expressing deep gratitude for Lucía Fernández, General Secretary, the guests, and technical staff.  He mentioned his intentions to keep working on the Plastics treaty negotiations, EPR and workers rights. He congratulated the delegates and their organizations for the democratic process, and his fellow colleagues in leadership. 

Sushila Sable, Vice president of the IAWP, sang a farewell song, as a call for all to keep working together. Sergio Sánchez, president of FACCYR, thanked everyone for visiting Argentina.