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

Law Report: Colombia

Waste Pickers in Colombia


Access to waste is critical to the livelihoods of waste pickers. Newer models of waste management such as privatization and incineration of waste directly impact livelihoods in waste. In 2010, the Colombian Constitutional Court sought to protect this customary right to access and sort recyclable waste to the waste pickers in the country.

Size and Significance

There are an estimated 18,000 recicladores in Bogota, alone.

Working Conditions

“The co-operatives affiliated to the Fundacion Social’s National Recycling Programme represent a wide variety of working conditions. Some members use pushcarts to transport materials, while other use horse-drawn carts or pickup trucks. Some, such as the Co-operativa Reciclar, in Cartagena, are located next to the local dumps, from which members salvage materials. Others follow established routes along city streets, retrieving items from containers placed at the kerbside for collection or from materials littering public places. Still other co-operatives take part in source segregation programmes, collecting recyclables from households, offices, commercial establishments and small industries, sometimes under formal contracts. Recycler co-operatives have formed regional marketing associations, which allow them to accumulate and sell recyclables in significant volumes, obtaining prices that are higher than what would be paid to each co-operative individually.”


On an average, depending on the recyclables being collected, a waste picker earns 8000 to 25,000 pesos per day.

Law and Policy

The Constitutional Court (April 2009) ruled in favor of waste pickers by granting them customary rights to access, sort and recycle reclaimable materials. The court ordered the Cali municipality to suspend the tender for a waste-management concession to give co-operatives of recicladores, enough time to organise themselves and bid for the contracts that are normally given to private companies. Further, the court ruled that future waste-disposal contracts “should favour and try to preserve the status of wastepickers as self-employed entrepreneurs”. The court also suspended the 500 USD fine levied by Cali’s municipal government for sorting rubbish in public.

Organisation and Voice

One of the most dynamic recycler cooperative movements in the world today exists in Colombia. The Fundacion Social, a non- governmental organization, has been assisting waste pickers in the formation of co-operatives since 1986, when a sanitary landfill replaced an open dump in the city of Manizales. The Foundation helped the displaced waste pickers to form a co- operative and then began assisting groups of waste pickers in other cities to also create co-operatives.