#WastePickersDay: Spotlighting the role of waste pickers in the circular economy

waste pickers - climateaction

#WastePickersDay: Spotlighting the role of waste pickers in the circular economy

Hello readers, Welcome to #CircularTuesday on CleanbuildVoices!

The enormous amounts of solid waste that are generated globally have made waste management a challenge.

While the world turns to a circular economy as an innovative approach to waste management, one aspect receives less attention and that aspect is the circular resource flow which the informal waste sector, especially waste pickers, is enabling.

Waste pickers in the informal waste sector comprise just about 2% of workers in low- and middle-income countries but play a vital role in the waste collection and recycling processes.

Often consisting of the urban poor and marginalized social groups who find a source of income and survival in waste picking, they work either independently or in groups.

Their waste collection services fill the gap left by municipal and other waste management authorities, especially in low-income areas and informal settlements. In fact, in some developing countries, these informal workers are the only source of waste collection.

Apart from their efforts at reducing the amount of waste in the streets which in turn lessens health risks, waste pickers, either through door-to-door waste-picking mechanisms or sorting waste at collection points, direct valuable materials to the recycling chain thereby reducing the quantities of waste disposed of and plastics that would ordinarily make their way into the ocean.

This makes waste picking is an effective form of recycling that allows for the recovery and re-use of products that have been thrown away.

Despite their immense contribution to the circular economy, the efforts of waste pickers are neither recognized nor their services adequately remunerated. They face serious discrimination and severe health impacts as a result of their work despite providing valuable social service.

Furthermore, they are often ignored in modern solid waste systems, and their livelihoods are threatened as systems modernize.

Governments too rarely recognize the important role that waste pickers can play and sideline them when designing their low-carbon strategies. Instead, they focus on technological fixes such as incineration or landfill gas utilization which are only part of the emissions reduction solution.

Waste pickers, with their grassroots initiatives, have accumulated valuable knowledge and offer innovative perspectives on handling waste as a result of their everyday experiences. It is only wise that governments collaborate with them and leverage their experience for proper waste management and circular-driven economies.

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