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


Wastepickers are workers in the informal economy who recover recyclable materials from waste. They are invisible entrepreneurs on the frontline of the fight against climate change, earning livelihoods from recovery and recycling, reducing demand for natural resources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet their successes are being undermined by “waste-to-energy” technologies.

Climate Benefits

Recycling is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Avoiding one ton of CO2 emissions through recycling costs 30% less than doing so through energy efficiency, and 90% less than wind power.

Recycling and livelihoods

Recycling provides productive work for an estimated 1% of the population in developing countries, in processes such as collection, recovery, sorting, grading, cleaning, baling, processing and manufacturing into new products. Even in developing countries, recycling provides 10 times as many jobs per ton of waste as do incinerators and landfills.

Wastepickers on the frontline

Wastepickers’ efforts to expand and formalize operations should be supported. This will result in more resource recovery, productive work, better working conditions, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling saves energy and trees

It also saves money. Resource recovery reduces emissions in the forestry, mining, and manufacturing sectors by replacing virgin materials used in manufacturing. Much less energy is required to manufacture goods from recycled materials, such as glass, metals and plastic, than from virgin materials. In the case of paper and wood products, there is another advantage: recycling paper products means less demand for wood and less deforestation.

“Waste-to-energy” vs. recycling

Incineration and landfill gas schemes conflict directly with recycling and composting, competing for similar materials: paper, cardboard, plastics and organics. Yet recycling reduces emissions 25 times more than incineration does. And incinerators emit more CO2 per unit of electricity than coal-fired power plants.

False solutions undermine wastepickers

The Clean Development Mechanism and some governments support incinerators and similar technologies in the mistaken belief that they will reduce emissions. Instead, climate subsidies should be redirected to the informal recycling sector to expand recycling.

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and Allies took part in the following climate change conferences and events

See the full list at Global Meetings section.

• Bonn Climate Change Talks, June 2009

• The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, COP15, December 2009

• World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Cochabamba, April 2010

• Tianjin Climate Change Conference, October 2010

• The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, COP16, December 2010

• South African Waste Pickers’ Association Climate Change Workshop, Johannesburg, September 2011

• The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, COP17, December 2011

Reports and Publications

Wastepickers and Climate Change

Wastepickers of the world unite at climate talks

Respect for Recyclers: Protecting the Climate Through Zero Waste

Cooling Agents


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