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The hidden heroes tackling the world's rubbish problem

In association with: Renew Our World and Tearfund UK

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The hidden heroes tackling the world's rubbish problem

Sign the petition

What is a waste picker?

Waste pickers are informal workers who collect, sort and sell materials for recycling or reuse. It is estimated that more than 20 million people around the world earn an income in this way.

Through collecting materials such as plastic, glass, paper and electronic waste from households, streets and dumpsites, waste pickers’ contribution to material recovery is immense. In fact, about 60 per cent of all plastic recycled globally is collected by waste pickers. They are the backbone of the world’s recycling systems.

The work that waste pickers do also has a huge impact on protecting the environment, and improving public health and local economies. Because of their work, less rubbish is left dumped or burnt on roadsides or landfills, and less plastic waste makes its way into waterways or oceans.

Less pollution is better for public health – as unmanaged waste increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and respiratory infection – resulting in the deaths of up to 1 million people each year. Plus, more rubbish being collected means more recycling, boosting green jobs.

What challenges do waste pickers face?

Despite the crucial role waste pickers play in tackling the plastic pollution crisis, and their extensive experience and knowledge of waste collection and recycling, waste pickers’ work often goes unrecognised. Their human rights and livelihoods are not sufficiently protected by governments, or respected by businesses.

Waste pickers often do not receive a living income and often endure poor working conditions. Many waste pickers face other human rights impacts, such as discrimination, harassment and exclusion from decision-making processes which affect their lives and livelihoods. Read Hamid's story

What is Tearfund doing?

Alongside our work to support communities who are most vulnerable to the impacts of plastic pollution, Tearfund's Rubbish Campaign is bringing together Christians around the world to call for the protection of waste pickers' human rights as governments negotiate a global treaty to end plastic pollution.

This treaty presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help people living in poverty by reducing global plastics production and ensuring a just transition for workers in the informal waste sector and communities in low- and middle-income countries who depend on plastic.

Justice for waste pickers and recognition of their vast experience and expertise need to be at the centre of treaty negotiations. This includes developing plans that support waste pickers and other workers in the informal waste sector to transition to better livelihood opportunities and ensuring waste pickers are involved in the decision-making that affects them.

  • Before rolling out bans on, or reductions in, plastic materials, or making changes to collection and recycling infrastructure, plans must be in place to ensure that waste pickers and other workers in the informal waste sector are supported to make a transition to better livelihood opportunities.

  • Waste pickers are able to collect the remaining plastic waste, through a requirement for producers to use highly recyclable materials and provisions on integration into collection schemes.

  • Waste pickers themselves should be involved in the decision-making processes for all of the above.

Take action now

Help end this rubbish problem by calling for a plastics treaty to address fully the impacts of plastic pollution on those living in poverty.

Sign the petition