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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Law Report: Costa Rica

Waste Pickers in Costa Rica


Inadequate infrastructure to handle the ever increasing waste generated has resulted in overflowing landfills and dumping of waste in rivers and on the streets of Costa Rica. Although viewed as a public health and environmental issue, waste is a resource that provides livelihoods to the poorest of the poor. Of the vast quantities of waste generated, only 10 per cent is recycled. Since 2008, the Costa Rican government began to actively engage with the issues of municipal waste, finding legal and policy solutions for an integrated solid waste management system.

Size and Significance

Nearly 90 per cent of the waste generated consists of organic waste, plastics, aluminum, glass and paper.

Working Conditions

Waste pickers gather cardboard, zinc, paper and glass. Also called buzos or trash divers, they rifle through mounds of unsorted mixed waste exposing themselves to injury and disease. They work long hours to make ends meet. Many workers are migrants from neighbouring Nicaragua, seeking to make a livelihood out of waste.


Because of a high content of valuables in the waste, workers can earn nearly 100 USD per week.

Law and Policy

In May 2010, the Costa Rican government passed the “Ley para la Gestión Integral de Residuos,” or the “Law for an Integrated Management of Residues” to outline the need for an integrated MSWM system. The objective of the law is to provide the necessary legislation to regulate and organize a comprehensive national plan for the management of solid waste. The law only contained general guidelines for improvements of the MSWM plan in Costa Rica and the need to pass decrees o specifically identify the approaches and methods that Costa Rica will use to improve its MSWM system. In 2011, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health initiated the rulemaking process for a hazardous waste regulation to implement the National Solid Waste Law (Ley Para La Gestión Integral de Residuos, Ley 8839/2010 or “Law”). The proposed regulation has been published for public comment. Notably, the Proposal also includes mandatory producer take-back provisions for hazardous end-of life products and packaging and provides for the Ministry of Health to define the special management wastes that will be subject to take-back programs. (Proposal, Arts. 9.6 and 17(e))

Organisation and Voice

As a result of a research carried out in several Latin American countries in 1996 on the role of “small micro-enterprises in solid waste management”, the National Chamber of Contractors for Waste Collection, Picking and Recycling of Costa Rica, or CANARDES, was constituted. It has over the years contributed to the betterment of those working in the informal waste sector.