Photo: Global Environment Facility/Flickr
Waste pickers are the principal actors in reclaiming waste for the recycling industry. Across the world, large numbers of people from low-income and disadvantaged communities make a living collecting and sorting waste, and then selling reclaimed waste through intermediaries to the recycling industry. Where others see trash or garbage, the waste pickers see paper, cardboard, glass, and metal. They are skilled at sorting and bundling different types of waste by color, weight, and end use to sell to the recycling industry. Yet waste pickers are rarely recognized for the important role they play in creating value from the waste generated by others and in contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions.
Fortunately, around the world, waste pickers have been organizing and cities have begun to promote the virtuous circle that comes with integrating waste pickers, the world’s recyclers, into solid waste management.
Brazil was the first country to integrate waste pickers, through their cooperatives, into municipal solid waste management systems and the first to adopt a National Waste Policy, recognizing the contributions of waste pickers and providing a legal framework to enable cooperatives of waste pickers to contract as service providers. The national movement of waste pickers in Brazil was awarded a contract to clean the stadiums during the World Cup.
“If we don’t take action now…the city of Nouakchott will soon be underwater.” These words, spoken by Mauritania’s Minister on Environment and Sustainable Development Amedi Camara, during a recent workshop in the country’s capital city, echoed a recurrent theme during our visits with Mauritanian authorities and local communities alike. They have stuck with me since.
Floods are not a new phenomenon for Nouakchott. A busy port city on Africa’s west coast, Nouakchott is mostly below sea level and is particularly vulnerable to rising groundwater levels, seawater intrusions, porous soils, sand extractions, and heavy rains in low-lying areas. Poorly planned port infrastructure has dramatically altered the dynamic and flow of sediments along the coast leading to substantial erosion in the city’s south (up to 25 meters annually in some years).
To make matters worse, severe and sometimes deadly floods have struck the city in recent decades. Extreme weather and human interventions have played a significant role in making the capital, with one-third of the population, or 1 million people, increasingly vulnerable to floods.
At the same time, the recycling industry has started to grow because of new initiatives, community organizations and private companies. There are a few organizations that repurpose waste into arts and crafts, tools or apply it as a source of energy – such as WasteDar. However, the majority collect or purchase plastic waste from collectors, primarily with a view to export, rather than recycle or reuse locally.
Socially and environmentally, waste management is one of the biggest challenges for an increasingly urbanized world. Waste pickers can earn as little as US$1-2 a day in dangerous conditions with little opportunity for advancement. They make up some of the most disadvantaged communities living in deep poverty.
Through a new market for sorted waste materials, these communities may access higher income generation opportunities in a sustainable manner. This presents an opportunity to explore turning this waste into value more close to home.
- solid waste management
- 3D Printer
- 3D Printing
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- Social Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
You cannot imagine my surprise while reading a BusinessWeek article last July about an innovative way to transform India’s litter into partial substitute for bitumen in asphalt to build roads!
Well, this transformative method arguably holds larger potential than the “garbage to music” recycling approach I recently wrote about in my first post about creative ways to manage waste. “Garbage to roads” was pioneered by an Indian chemist called Vasudevan, and it could help not only in getting rid of tons of plastic litter- thick acrylics and bottles, grocery bags and wrappers-- but in building roads at the same time. It’s a win-win solution for all.
I started working in solid waste management only a few months before I heard the story of the children’s orchestra in Paraguay, called the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura.
These talented and driven children, all from poor families, had the creativity to construct musical instruments from recycled materials and use them to play classical music (check out the video “Landfill Harmonic”). The passion of these musicians, inspired by their unique social, educational and artistic influences – as well as constraints – and their ability to create art from limited resources strengthened my commitment to the work we do in solid waste management.
Management of organic waste is a major dilemma for developing countries. It generates unpleasant odors and helps rats, flies, bugs and mosquitoes multiply and spread diseases. As it decomposes, organic waste generates methane, a gas that contributes significantly to global warming. Last year Daniel Hoornweg, Perinaz Bhada-Tata and Chris Kennedy predicted in an article in the magazine Nature that the global rate of solid waste generation is expected to triple by 2100. This is bad news because if the investment for solid waste management in developing countries remains as low as it is today, the world is at risk of irreversible environmental deterioration.
Last month, I paid a visit to the Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill located 18 km south of Jenin City in the northern West Bank. I was impressed with the status of solid waste management in this part of the West Bank and inspired by how various local governments were cooperating despite the volatile political environment.
The Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill near Jenin in the West Bank (Photo by Farouk Banna)
When I arrived in Jenin on the morning of January 29, the head of the Joint Service Council (JSC) and his staff welcomed me and took me up to the education center located atop the building. This room provides an extraordinary aerial view of the landfill.
Urbanization is the most powerful force shaping the planet today. This can be good news as urbanization is the best bet we have to meet our global poverty reduction targets. Cities generate our wealth, our culture, and our innovation. This is also bad news since cities generate the lion’s share of the world’s GHG emissions, and cities are responsible for most of the planet’s current decline in biodiversity. Cities also generate solid waste; lots of it and the amount is growing fast.
‘Peak waste’ – that point in time when all the waste from all the cities finally plateaus around the world, and then slowly starts to decline, is not on track to happen this century. Estimates are that it will peak at three-times today’s current waste generation rate. Peak waste is an excellent proxy for humanity’s cumulative global environmental impact; therefore we are on track to triple today’s overall global environmental impact. Our ‘assault on the planet’ will start to subside on the other side of peak waste. Therefore we must move peak waste forward and reduce its intensity when it finally does arrive.