[Kiswahili] Strengthening Waste Picker Organising in Africa

Waste pickers from South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Zambia have demonstrated the common need for official recognition from national and municipal governments, better working conditions, PPE, improved payment for their recovered materials and collection and processing service, and an end to social stigmatisation.

The experience of organising shows that these needs are achievable through building representative organisations that will ensure that their voices are heard in negotiations with governments and demonstrate their value to society.

This requires waste pickers to work collaboratively and embed the principles of democracy, equality and environmental justice in their organised structures. Furthermore, municipalities and national governments need to recognise the value that waste pickers play in diverting waste from the landfills, encouraging recycling where materials re-enter the economy and addressing poverty by providing an income for individuals that have been excluded from the formal economy.

 International, European, Italian and Tunisian environmental groups have joined in demanding the immediate return of 282 containers full of mixed municipal waste that were illegally exported from Italy’s Campania region to the Port of Sousse in Tunisia between May and July 2020. According to the environmental organizations, the exports violated European Union law, Tunisian law as well as international waste trade treaties — the Basel Convention, the Bamako Convention and the Izmir Protocol of the Barcelona Convention.

In 2021 we made great strides as a movement and continued to spread awareness on our calls for a just, healthy and zero waste society.

To celebrate our victories, we put together this short region review of the year 2021. We recognise that there were many more highlights to celebrate in the movement, but these are a select few that we have been closely engaging on.

In light of the global plastic crisis, technologies such as turning plastic waste into fuel and burning it are being falsely marketed as circular, climate-friendly, and sustainable. Such incineration technologies -including gasification and pyrolysis- are popping up across the globe, both as large-scale industrial investments and small-scale, backyard projects.

Amid the industry hype for plastic-to-fuel schemes, this advocacy brief highlights the climate, environmental, and health risks from these processes that outweigh any supposed benefits.

Waste pickers from South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Zambia have demonstrated the common need for official recognition from national and municipal governments, better working conditions, PPE, improved payment for their recovered materials and collection and processing service, and an end to social stigmatisation.

The experience of organising shows that these needs are achievable through building representative organisations that will ensure that their voices are heard in negotiations with governments and demonstrate their value to society.

This requires waste pickers to work collaboratively and embed the principles of democracy, equality and environmental justice in their organised structures. Furthermore, municipalities and national governments need to recognise the value that waste pickers play in diverting waste from the landfills, encouraging recycling where materials re-enter the economy and addressing poverty by providing an income for individuals that have been excluded from the formal economy.

This booklet is a guide that is aimed at all waste pickers who face challenges where they work, focusing particularly on those working on landfill sites, although street pickers are mentioned briefly throughout. It is a brief look at what organizing of waste pickers is and the benefits organizing may provide people working in this sector of the South African economy. It can be used by any waste picker who is interested in solving problems that they and the waste pickers they work with may have where they work.

Since 2004, Rwanda began a process of carrying out national bans to reduce the consumption and manufacturing of single-use plastic in the country. In contrast to polluting approaches like “waste-to-energy” incinerators and landfills, the approach to tackling plastic waste management entailed the enforcement of strong policies, which has reaped environmental, social and economic benefits.

Plastic pollution is a major threat to human health and environmental sustainability. Government policies that restrict plastic production is one way we can tackle this issue. Africa has made incredible strides in the fight against plastic, countries like Rwanda and Kenya have championed strong enforcement to justify the reasoning behind placing a ban in the first place. Other African countries have also made significant contributions to stop the production and importation of single use plastic.

As the world’s fastest-urbanizing continent, Africa has encountered major challenges in implementing a sound solid waste management system. The media and some international institutions including the UN Environment Program have repeteadly promoted waste incineration in Africa, without ackowledging incineration’s harmful impact on human health and the environment.