COVID-19 has posed new challenges to the world’s waste pickers
The pandemic has created new problems for waste pickers around access to waste, safety and the falling prices of recyclables. Organized waste pickers are better off on all three counts. A survey of 140 waste-picking associations in Brazil found that after serious disruption in the first weeks and months of the pandemic, three-quarters were back in operation by May. Almost all of the were using PPE, almost 80% had sent valuable members into isolation and 45% were quarantining scrap before sorting it.
None of this has been easy, says Martha Chen, a Harvard lecturer who advises WIEGO, a non-profit focused on women in informal work. “Someone from the public or the government doesn’t wake up one morning and think ‘Let’s think about the waste pickers’,” she says. “These gains come from years and years of struggle.”