Waste Pickers at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences

Waste pickers contribute to the conservation of natural resources and energy while reducing air and water pollution. They also reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the reuse of materials. Around the globe, waste pickers are organizing and fighting for recognition of their significant environmental contributions.

WIEGO is a partner in the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and Allies, which brings waste pickers from Latin America, Asia and Africa together with support organizations and environmentalists to offer real solutions for climate change mitigation and waste management. Through collective action, they have voiced their concerns and demands at international climate change meetings worldwide. 

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and Allies took part in the following climate change conferences and events:

Waste Pickers at UN Climate Change Conferences

Waste picker delegates made their voices heard at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences in Durban (COP 17, 2011) and Cancun (COP 16, 2010). At both, waste pickers played an active role, garnering media attention at their press conferences, speaking engagements, demonstrations and events.

As they had at COP 15 in Copenhagen (December 2009), waste pickers advocated for alternative funding mechanisms to support fair and just solutions to climate change. At a panel meeting with key climate change negotiators, including the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) board, they voiced their core demands:

  • recognize the crucial role the informal recycling sector plays in climate change mitigation and a healthy economy
  • approve a Global Climate Fund to invest in resource recovery programs that will ensure decent livelihoods for all workers, and that are directly accessible by waste pickers and other informal economy groups
  • exclude waste disposal technologies (such as incinerators) from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and other climate funds, as these destroy valuable reclaimable materials and take income from workers

To follow the ongoing activities of waste pickers on the world stage, visit the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers website at  www.globalrec.org.

In the News 

For the latest news items from around the world, visit WIEGO's News section about waste pickers.  

Waste Pickers Clean Up Our Mess On the Ground and in the Air (from All Africa.com, 6 December 2011) "Wastepickers are at the UN's COP17 climate change conference arguing that their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially
methane, should be recognized and supported." Read more. 

Trash into Treasure, Waste Pickers Speak at COP 17 (from Gender Links Commentary, 4 December 2011) by Florence Sipalla "...Waste management in urban areas is increasingly becoming a source of employment for community members, in particular women. The income earned from selling waste supports families, sends children to school, and pays for health services for the family."  Read more. 

Respect Waste Pickers (Blue Green Blog, 6 December 2011) by Kelly Schwinghammer — "This morning at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, the Global Alliance for Waste Pickers and Allies were dancing and singing while holding a sign that said “Respect for Waste Pickers: Protecting the Climate through Recycling." Read more.

Feature Publications

Respect for Recyclers: Protecting the Climate through Zero Waste by Neil Tangri – “Reducing, reusing, and recycling municipal waste is one of the easiest and most effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also provides gainful employment to millions of people in the developing world, mostly in the informal sector (‘waste pickers’).” Read the publication.

Cooling Agents: Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation by the Informal Recycling Sector in India by Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, Safai Sena and the Advocacy Project (2009) – “Intuition and common sense suggest that recycling waste mitigates greenhouse gases. Now, data from all over the developed world shows this to be true. But what about the developing world? .... The aim of this report is two-fold: to establish the relationship between municipal solid waste and greenhouse gases, and to undertake a first attempt at quantifying the emissions reductions attributable to the informal recycling sector through the case study of Delhi, India.” Read the Cooling Agents summary.

Read the Climate Change Fact Sheet and Delegates Statement to the UN  Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from June 2009.

Partners in Supporting Waste Pickers

Alliance of Indian Wastepickers