Historical Inclusion of Waste Pickers in Global Plastics Treaty Negotiations

The formation of a "Group of Friends of Waste Pickers" was announced today at the negotiations towards a global plastics treaty.
Source: Mumtahina Rahman; pixabay.com

This moment marks unprecedented recognition of the rights, skills, and importance of the informal waste sector; never before have countries formally committed to advocate on behalf of waste pickers in the context of international negotiations. The Group is a voluntary body made up of representatives of member states from around the world to ensure waste pickers’ voices are heard in the Plastic Treaty negotiations.

The announcement comes at the outset of the first international negotiations’ committee (INC-1) meeting to establish the text of the Global Plastics Treaty, which will be the first legally binding treaty to address plastic pollution, from extraction to disposal. The inclusion of waste pickers in the negotiations signals that countries are acknowledging the pivotal role that waste pickers play in creating solutions to the plastic crisis, and should therefore be recognized as key stakeholders in the treaty process.

Between 12.6 and 56 million people work in the informal recycling sector, and in many places their efforts account for almost all the materials recycled in their municipalities. Despite this, waste pickers often go unrecognized and/or uncompensated by their local governments, and work in undignified conditions. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, it is estimated that the informal sector provides 50–90% of the recyclable materials that are used by local industry or exported, yet only receives 5% of the profits.

The core demand of waste picker groups is to develop a just transition plan, which must include adequate compensation for services, opportunities for self-employment, a key role in the plastic value chain, entrepreneurship, and a role in the creation and implementation of policies to end the plastic crisis at a local and international level.

Soledad Mella, President of the National Association of Waste Pickers Chile (ANARCH), and Communications Secretary RedLacre: “It is historic to see more than 19 countries aligning with the International Alliance of Waste Pickers with delegates who can politically influence decisions, guaranteeing the participation of waste pickers in the negotiation. Now, the biggest challenge is that the process is truly binding and that they take into account our demand, which is a just transition that guarantees the participation of waste pickers in the entire recycling chain and in every negotiation, and that the laws that will be implemented see waste pickers as a fundamental part of the recycling chain”.

Adja  Mame Seyni Paye Diop, – Vice President of the Waste Pickers from Senegal: “What I expect from this treaty and this meeting is that people take our jobs into account. For me, a just transition is having alternative jobs to support our families when it comes time to close dump sites.”

Waste picker groups demand:

  • A definition of just transition and a description of waste pickers in the draft text for the negotiations.
  • A negotiating cluster dedicated to just transition
  • The commissioning of a report highlighting the contribution of waste pickers in recycling and reducing plastic pollution, where waste pickers will provide input.
  • Financial support to attend international negotiations.


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