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Empowering Waste Pickers

Essential to the circular economy, waste picker communities work tirelessly, typically with meager earnings and without proper safety measures. Meridian is empowering these communities with near-term necessities and long-term change.

Across the world, waste pickers comb landfills and neighborhoods, collecting pieces of plastic trash. Individually, these pieces are near worthless, but if enough are bundled together, they can be sold and recycled. Through their efforts, waste pickers play a key role in redirecting plastic waste otherwise headed to the world’s oceans, rivers, and fields. However, much of their work occurs outside official waste collection systems, and these communities endure compromised living and working conditions and marginalization from their status. Since 2019, Meridian has worked to provide near-term necessities and make progress towards long-term change for waste picker communities worldwide.

In facilitating several sessions at the 2019 Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit (OPLS), we met leaders with five waste picker/collector organizations from different countries who were educating the plastic waste community about the work, economics, and opportunities of the “informal sector.” Following the OPLS sessions, Meridian facilitated the Plastic Pickers’ Operational Working Group (POW), comprised of five organizations:

This forum provides space to share information, organize more formally, and amplify waste pickers’ voices. Relevant issues the POW has tackled include fair distribution of profits across the value chain; access to health care; worker safety protections; and a better future for the next generation. For example, we mobilized immediate relief such as basic rations and PPE, in response to the devasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on these vulnerable communities. Meridian also catalyzes conversations between POW/waste picker organizations supplying used plastics and brands with increased demand for post-consumer recycled content. These efforts are documented in the June 2020 report, “Why the Work of Waste Pickers Matters in the Circular Economy.”

While these efforts have made positive changes, long-term steps must be taken to improve the conditions for these workers and their communities. By continuing to support the POW, Meridian deepens relationships with waste picker communities and increases access to opportunities for long-term change.

Project Team

Learn more about the team that led the Empowering Waste Pickers project.