If someone were to ask me who I admire most in the steps of a circular economy, I immediately have an answer for them – those in the collection process in developing countries: the entrepreneurial, hardworking, knowledgeable and inherently sustainable waste collectors across the world.
There is no doubt, waste collection is important wherever you are. It’s as important for me in Texas as it is for my colleague Han in Singapore, Carolina in Brazil, and Adwoa in South Africa. The need to dispose of things we use is something that inevitably binds us - wherever we are, whoever we are. Every single day I reflect on the challenge of waste, the hope for a circular economy and the actions I need to take in both my work and personal life. Moving toward the ideal state of a world without waste sometimes means looking into new technology, infrastructure, and processes, but always involves people. If someone were to ask me who I admire most in steps of a circular economy, I would immediately have an answer for them: the entrepreneurial, hardworking, knowledgeable and inherently sustainable waste pickers across the world.
The 15 million waste pickers around the world are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These waste warriors account for 15 to 20 percent of collection globally. That’s huge, especially when you consider where much of their income comes from: recycling! Waste pickers salvage both reusable and recyclable materials that have been discarded by others and sell the material to provide an income for themselves and their family. They are uniquely skilled at identifying and collecting valuable waste - either buying waste directly from households and organizations or picking materials directly from streets, landfills, and informal dumpsites. The workers operate on the front line – keeping waste out of our environment and accelerating us toward a more circular economy.
Right now, the estimated 15 million waste pickers across the world are facing deep and life-altering challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world becomes more unstable and driven by uncertainty, these workers are among the most vulnerable. They often live in areas where healthcare and hygienic necessities are difficult to access, their lives and livelihood at risk. In some regions they must continue to work, often without the proper protective equipment, further jeopardizing their health. In other places, recycling programs are temporarily shut down for sanitation purposes and workers are left unemployed for the duration of the shutdown without reliable income outside of potential government assistance.
We have proud partnerships across the world working directly with waste pickers and when this crisis arose, I knew we could step up and help. Together with our partners and other organizations supporting waste collectors, we came together to launch a global fund aimed to support this underserved community. We encourage companies and their employees to leverage the fund to help provide resources for waste pickers impacting their immediate safety and health including masks, gloves and handwashing stations. Additionally, food rations and supplementary income will be provided in places where they are unable to go to work. The fund is also aspirational, providing a base that can improve the lives and livelihoods of waste pickers in the long-term across the globe, ensuring a sense of hope and pride and providing them a real opportunity to integrate into their local communities.
Waste pickers are the heartbeat of a circular economy, and we all need them for a healthy and sustainable world. Right now, they need us. I hope you will join Team Dow and #SupportWasteWarriors. Visit the Waste Collector COVID-19 Support Fund through GlobalGiving to learn more.
Haley Lowry, P&SP Global Sustainability Director