'We Are Not Alone': Waste Pickers Worldwide Unite

Hero Image
Leonor Larraburu of the Unión de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Economía Popular (UTEP)
Published Date

In this interview, Leonor Larraburu of the Unión de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Economía Popular (UTEP) in Argentina tells us about the most important achievements for the waste picking sector since the Movimiento de Trabajadores Excluidos, a precursor organization of UTEP, was formed.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was barely 15 years old, I started recycling. It was something my father raised us with, from childhood; my parents were waste pickers and it was the way to support us every day.

Our movement, the Movimiento de Trabajadores Excluidos (Movement of Excluded Workers or MTE), has already turned 20 years old. The first and main achievements have been the rights, respect and recognition that colleagues in the waste picking sector have gained.

The movement gave us the identity that we deserved, the respect that we deserved and that we still deserve, because there are still a lot of fellow workers who are excluded.

In 2011, the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy (CTEP for its Spanish acronym) was formed. Currently, the Unión de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Economía Popular (UTEP), which was formed in 2019, is our union in Argentina. We have the right to raise our voices and make ourselves heard. We have a union that is fighting for our labour rights.

The various organizations have given us recognition and love for all our compañeros and compañeras, they taught us what our rights really are. The brotherhood that exists today, the camaraderie that exists today, is an achievement.

WIEGO has played a vital role for us. In 2014, it gave us the opportunity to participate in the meeting of the International Labour Organization. Today we can talk to waste pickers from all over the world, and the work that we have been doing has been unified.

WIEGO provides the accompaniment of knowing that we are not alone and that we are many brothers and sisters with the same goal: the struggle of waste pickers from all over the world.

WIEGO has been accompanying our task every day, so that we are connected and linked every day with all the problems that exist, with each waste picker, throughout the world. Because of WIEGO's help, a global alliance is being consolidated that will be a single union, which will unite all of us.

I want to highlight the achievement that women waste pickers today fulfill a fundamental role; we are able to organize and manage and lead a system in a way that for many years was impossible.

Today we have women who are fulfilling all the jobs that before were held by men. Now female workers are trained for those jobs and many more. I want to tell those compañeras who have not yet taken heart, to take heart, that the rights that we as women have today cannot be taken from us by anyone.

What do I expect for the next few years? That there is not a waste picker left out, for waste pickers all over the world to be recognized. Our greatest challenge is to ensure that no waste picker brother or sister is left out of the system.

  • This has been edited for length and clarity. We are profiling WIEGO’s institutional members – trade unions, cooperatives and associations of informal workers that are active in WIEGO.


Occupational group