Waste Pickers Networks

Latin American and Caribbean Waste Pickers Network (LAWPN)

The Red Latinoamericana de Recicladores (Red Lacre, or Latin American Waste Pickers Network) brings together democratic waste picker organizations – primarily national movements formed by cooperatives – from 15 countries in Latin America. The organizations work together to improve the working conditions of waste pickers and promote dialogue and exchanges between waste pickers in different countries.

The first steps towards the formation of this network were taken in 2004. In 2005, waste picker leaders from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia met and started to engage in solidarity actions in response to repression by local governments. Towards the end of 2006, with the support of the AVINA Foundation, they held a conference where more countries became involved, and the Network grew.

At its Third Conference, held in conjunction with the First World Conference of Waste Pickers in 2008, representatives from 15 Latin American countries participated. The Network describes itself as a “movement” that operates with minimum bureaucracy and with rotating Secretariat responsibilities. A participant in a meeting in Buenos Aires, June 2011,  noted, “We are a social movement and so the objective is constant movement and change.” At its Congress in June 2010 in Peru, the Red Lacre decided to decentralize its Secretariat into three arms: Chile (Communication), Colombia (International), and Brazil (Administrative). 

The Network seeks recognition of waste pickers as an occupation, helps create and strengthen national waste picker associations, and shares information among waste pickers. It also promotes public policies and laws that include, formalize and dignify the work of waste pickers, as well as global policies that recognize  their work and bring benefits to waste pickers and to society as a whole by addressing such issues as climate change, solid waste management and poverty mitigation. (For more on these topics, visit www.redrecicladores.net.)  Some of the member associations or movements have, through their organizational and legal struggles, been able to achieve recognition, policy and legal changes in favour of waste pickers. For example:

  • In Brazil, concerted efforts by waste pickers, their MBOs  and significant allies – including sympathetic government officials – has resulted in a high profile for these workers and the enactment of legislation that officially specifies their inclusion in waste management. A discussion of the history and content of this can be found in Overview of the Legal Framework for Inclusion of Informal Recyclers in Solid Waste Management in Brazil  by Sonia Dias.
  • In Bogota, Colombia, the Recyclers Association of Bogota won a court challenge to change the solid waste recycling process. In 2011, the country’s Constitutional Court suspended the city’s tendering process in order to protect the rights of recyclers and the environmental health rights of the population. 

Global Alliance of Waste Pickers

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers is a developing network of waste picker organizations, with associates in Latin America, India and Africa. It engages in joint activities planned by an interim global steering committee made up of waste picker organization representatives from different regions. It has a Global Coordinator and three Regional Coordinators supported by WIEGO. For a short history of the Global Alliance, read Lucia Fernandez’ ”Towards a Global Network: Waste pickers without Borders.”

In 2008 the First World Conference of Waste Pickers, “Waste Pickers without Frontiers,” was held in Bogota, Colombia. The Conference was a joint effort of waste picker and support organizations from different countries.  It was organized by an international steering committee, composed of waste picker organizations from India and Latin America, and supportive individuals and organizations including WIEGO. 

As a result, and after obtaining additional resources, global connections have been strengthened through increased communication, exchanges and global meetings. Waste pickers have also been able to build alliances with environmental justice groups, in particular the Global Anti Incinerator Alliance (www.no-burn.org). With the support of GAIA and WIEGO,  waste pickers have been able to  make their voices heard in the negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They are making  policy makers aware of their vital role in recycling solid waste, and advocating for alternative financing mechanisms that are inclusive of waste pickers/recyclers. Waste pickers/recyclers participated in the negotiations in Bonn, Germany and Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 and Cancun, Mexico, Cochabamba, Bolivia and Tianjin, China in 2010, and will participate in Durban, South Africa in 2011. For more information, see Waste Pickers at the United Nations Climate Conferences.

Members and support organizations are also reaching out to new groups and helping develop organizations in Africa, parts of Latin America and Asia, where waste pickers are not yet well organized or connected. Discussions are ongoing on if and how to form a structured and democratic global alliance of waste pickers.

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