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[ENG] Contexte #2 - Wastepickers, valuable assets of the circular economy

Wastepickers are people living precariously who use waste picking as a source of income. They substitute themselves to municipal services and allow a better recycling rate while preserving our primary resources et fight pollution linked to waste. All of this at no costs.

They represent 1% of the worldwide urban population [1] and are an essential link to our urban societies and real actors of global cooling.

Waste picking is a real job. For its actors, it’s a way to refuse to fall into self-abandonment or delinquency. It’s choosing to have a useful and worthy job. In Southern cities, it is estimated that waste pickers bring between 15 and 20% of recyclable waste [2].

Uniting to fight exclusion

Acting in the shadows, they are generally victims of ignorance and repression by local authorities, as well as rejected by societies.

Yet, in certain countries, balance of power between wastepickers and authorities are shifting.

Thanks to collective organisation, groups of wastepickers are fighting to be considered as major actors in waste management by creating bridges between the formal sector. By doing so, they improve their working and living conditions.

Good reasons to cooperate with the informal sector in waste management systems

The inclusion and cooperation with wastepickers, and more widely the informal sector, in waste management systems presents several advantages:

  • Economical, as informal waste picking saves money to municipalities and tax payers. It’s also a great source of job creations (10 to 40 times more than the formal alternative) [3] ;

Realized savings thanks to the contribution of the informal sector in million of euros per year [2] [4]

  • Social, by fighting poverty while increasing revenues, improving sanitary conditions and allowing better access to healthcare ;

  • Environmental, because waste pickers are efficient waste sorters and therefore contribute drastically to increasing the recycling rates. Recycling rates are generally higher in southern countries, even though local authorities do not necessarily have the capacities to implement infrastructures or support financially such activities. Inclusion of waste pickers would allow a mutualisation of resources at different operational levels and therefore optimise waste management in it entirety.

Recycling rates in cities of Northern and Southern countries [5]

As the NGO Enda Europe says: “Beyond the direct economic interests for local authorities of such informal activities, it is necessary to realise the role of the safety net such jobs create: several million people are currently working as wastepickers worldwide, individuals who are not part of the formal job market and are facing no other alternatives. Forbidding such jobs therefore appears as a nonsense economic decision, as well as a social danger, leading to marginalisation of populations who are already excluded“.


[1] Banque Mondiale.

[2] Etude GIZ-CWG, 2010.

[3] Réseau TransWaste (Linzer, 2012).

[4] "Etat des lieux du secteur informel des déchets en Afrique et dans les Caraïbes : pour une gestion inclusive et sociale", Plateforme Re-sources, 2014.

[5] UN Habitat, 2010.

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