Waste Picker Rights
GAIA believes that advocating for waste picker rights is an important part of working for environmental justice.
In many parts of the developing world, collecting and sorting waste "informally" provides a livelihood for large numbers of the urban poor, especially women and children. The World Bank estimates that 1% of the urban population in developing countries earns a living through this work, which goes by different names around the world including reclaimers, catadores (carton collectors), scavengers, and recyclers.
People working in the informal recycling sector often suffer from harsh working conditions and are exposed to many health hazards. They often live in poor conditions, and have low social status and low average earnings. The public policy and regulatory environment in which they operate is often hostile. They ultimately carry the burden of providing critical recycling services to cities all over the developing world where consumption generates tons of waste every day, and the conditions under which they provide these critical services are deplorable.
However, there is evidence that where waste collectors are organized, and operate within a more favorable policy climate, they are able to achieve a decent standard of living and improve their health and social standing. In Latin America there are a large number of worker cooperatives. In some countries these have come together to form a national movement, and the process of forming a regional movement is underway. Some informal waste workers have also formed or joined trade unions or associations.
GAIA believes that advocating for waste picker rights is an important part of working for environmental justice and zero waste. To this end, GAIA stands in solidarity with waste pickers to demand safe working conditions, fair wages, and inclusion in the policy decisions that shape their lives.