On the Ground: Stories of Waste Workers and Waste Pickers in Asia (Volume 1: India)

A publication highlighting the work and realities of waste pickers in India.

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.

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.

For decades, U.S. cities have collected mixed plastic in recycling programs in an unsuccessful attempt to solve the plastic waste crisis. Analyzing the municipal solid waste (MSW) streams of five U.S. cities, this new report sheds light on the different ways legitimate recycling efforts are undermined, and how the simplest and most ethical solution to our plastic problem is to remove all non-recyclable plastic from the system.

Zero waste is a crucial component of a regenerative economy with the potential to safeguard public health, create good jobs, support local economies, and mitigate climate change.

Between January and August 2020, the United States shipped 44,173 tons of plastic waste, the same tonnage as almost 300 blue whales, to 15 Latin American countries, approximately 35 containers per day. An investigative report by GAIA LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) members reveals the untold story of how the United States is exporting its plastic problems to Latin America–disregarding international and national laws–and the harm that it’s causing to the Latin American people and environment. The Executive Summary of the report, including its key findings, has been translated into English.

If our cities and communities are to fully recover and rebuild from the ashes of the broken system we find ourselves in, we must pivot away from extractive indutry and create zero waste systems that hold strong when disaster strikes. Our members around the country are demonstrating that zero waste is an essential part of a Just Recovery.

Economic recovery, job creation, and poverty alleviation are currently at the top of government agendas all over the world. Meanwhile, we continue to face a global waste crisis, which can be mitigated through zero waste solutions, solutions that would address the very issues governments are seeking to resolve.

Waste workers and wastepickers around the globe were badly hit by the pandemic. While their contribution to the community is vital, they are often neglected by the same community that they serve. They deserve more. They deserve better.