Waste Pickers, How to Partner With Them?

Working with Waste Pickers Guide

This guide is meant for GAIA member organisations working on zero waste projects, and want to want to partner with waste pickers. 

This guide should serve as a tool to inform your plans to partner with waste pickers; it should not replace the necessary research and relationship-building required to understand the local context of waste pickers in your community/city.

What is Waste Picker Organizing

Waste pickers around the world face similarities in the challenges they encounter. This includes the common need for official recognition from national and municipal governments, safe and healthy working conditions, Personal Protection Equipment, improved payment for their recovered materials/ collection/ processing services, and an end to social stigmatisation. The experiences of waste picker organisations from Latin America, Asia and South Africa show that these needs are achievable by building representative organisations to ensure their voices are heard in negotiations with governments and society.

Organised waste picker groups require waste pickers to work collaboratively and embed the principles of democracy, equality and environmental justice in their organised structures. 

Gift Mongwe chatting to a glass recycler at Soshanguve landfill, South Africa. ©GAIA/Daylin Paul 2023

How Can Civil Society Support Waste Pickers?

Civil society organisations can be critical partners for waste pickers. Drawing from the experiences of organisations across Africa, some of the support given to waste pickers includes: assisting the process of individuals organising themselves, amplifying waste pickers’ demands for respect, recognition and inclusion, providing capacity-building for any needed skills, and helping to address the pressing and immediate needs of waste pickers, such as health care needs and personal protection equipment. 

©GAIA 2022 Nairobi, Kenya International Waste Picker Gathering

Organisations do not speak for waste pickers or make decisions on how Democratic waste picker structures are run. Listen to this podcast episode on how civil society organisations can support the work of waste pickers. The episode features Maditlhare Koena (South African Waste Pickers Association) and Asiphile Khanyile (groundWork). 

Definition of Waste Picker

Someone who collects reusable and recyclable materials from residential and commercial waste bins, landfill sites and open spaces in order to revalue them and generate an income. 

Citation: Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and Department of Science and Innovation (2020).Waste picker integration guideline for South Africa: Building the Recycling Economy and Improving Livelihoods through Integration of the Informal Sector. DEFF and DST: Pretoria

Impact of Waste Pickers Work

Through their work, waste pickers create positive social, economic and environmental impacts in society.

Common Needs of Waste Pickers

From consultation with GAIA member organisations, the following needs were identified as the main challenges waste pickers are facing across the African continent.

International Waste Picker Day 2023

International Waste Pickers Day is held annually on the 1st of March. This day commemorates the day that waste pickers were murdered in Colombia in 1992. Today waste pickers use this day to highlight their important contributions to the waste management sector. To join in the celebration of waste pickers, we held month-long activities during the month of march. See some of our activities below:

Get To Know Me Series! An Instagram reel series that aims to provide a platform for waste pickers to share their personal stories about who they are, why they do what they do and their values. Check them out here!


International Women’s Day For International Women’s Day We chatted with Lydia Bamfo, a waste picker leader from Ghana. Watch here!

©GAIA/Focalize Media

Africa For Zero Waste Podcast. We started a podcast and later launched our first episode in March! In the episode, Maditlhare Koena (South African Waste Pickers Association) and Asiphile Khanyile (groundWork) talk to host Sureshnie Rieder about how civil society organisations can support the work of waste pickers. Listen to the conversation here!


A Day in the Life of A Waste Picker. Day in the life of a waste picker is a photo essay series that takes us through the daily lives of waste pickers in 4 different African communities. You can view these images in our 3d virtual gallery


Online Meeting | Photo Essay Launch To launch the photo essay series, A Day in the Life of A Waste Picker, we held an online event to formally launch this exhibition. If you would like to watch the full recording, it can be accessed here. Passcode: $GDW8CBZ. 

Visit the Virtual Photo Exhibit

To learn more about working with waste pickers in Africa, please reach out to:

Niven Reddy, GAIA Africa Regional Coordinator, niven@no-burn.org

Desmond Alugnoa, GAIA Africa Campaigns Manager, desmond@no-burn.org