Category 18 April 2019

Global Alliance of Waste Pickers

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers supports thousands of waste picker organisations covering mainly Latin America, Asia and Africa.[1] Its goals are raising awareness and providing support in an area which is often forgotten in resources discussions: municipal solid waste treatment in poorer countries.

The challenge

Due to increasing global urbanisation, millions of people make a living collecting, sorting, recycling, and selling materials considered waste. In many countries, waste pickers supply the only form of solid waste collection.[2] These activities create jobs for an estimated 15 million workers worldwide and contribute to the conservation of natural resources and energy. [3] Thus, the value of waste picking is increasingly important to global environmental efforts and the development of cities.[4] Complying with sustainability criteria is often not the main driver for professional associations in the Alliance, but the combination of waste reduction and maintaining sustainable living conditions.


The network

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers is a networking process supported by WIEGO[5] with groups in more than 28 countries.[6] The process started in 2005 and took up speed after the 1st World Conference of Waste pickers held in 2008.[7] At this point in time, organisations in the informal economy from Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as Europe, are joining forces[8] when promoting sustainable practices such as treating textile waste and recovery and combining activities for social business.[9] The secretariats of the Alliance work to achieve and implement the network’s objectives by monitoring annual work plans, facilitating exchange of experiences among member countries, coordinating activities, managing resources, and creating an information network and open spaces to integrate waste picking into the public agenda.[10]

The benefits

Being a member of the Alliance means having a voice. Most recently, it was reported that waste pickers in Columbia are currently being paid as much as public service workers. The per ton payments for materials which are collected and transported almost match what is paid to private operators. The first 790 waste pickers and their families who benefited from the initiative saw their normal earnings double or even triple. About 4,000 (of Bogotá’s 14,000) waste pickers are registered for the payment programme.[11] The Alliance’s declaration aims to support sustainability criteria, firmly stating the rejection of incineration and landfill-based technologies and agrees to demand and create processes that promote “zero waste”, or the maximum utilisation of waste (such as reuse, recycling and composting).[12]

Further deployment

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers is a developing network of waste picker organisations sharing the vision of Waste Pickers without Frontiers.[13] They were invited to the United Nations Climate Change Conferences[14] and are currently focusing on the sharing and exchange of information and solidarity among thousands of waste pickers’ organisations, with the support and coordination of WIEGO and contributions from waste picker leaders and partners around the world.[15] This concept is ready for full scale implementation, qualifying for an estimated level 5 on the generic maturity scale GML.[16] Although the network is coordinated in the U.S.A., member centres are based world-wide.[17] The activities are financed by donations and public programmes. The Alliance supports networking activities in order to increase living conditions while minimising the carbon footprint.