Feminizing Waste: Waste-Picking as an Empowerment Opportunity for Women and Children in Impoverished CommunitiesColorado Journal of Environmental Law and Policy

Catherine A. Madsen
  • Article Title: Feminizing Waste: Waste-Picking as an Empowerment Opportunity for Women and Children in Impoverished Communities
  • Title of Journal: Colorado Journal of Environmental Law and Policy
  • Vol #: 17
  • Issue #: 1

The crisis of excessive waste in developing countries, coupled with a high rate of poverty, has created an abundant labor force of wastepickers at dumpsites in urban areas. Although the increasing number of waste-pickers is considered a sign of growing poverty and a problem to be eliminated, an examination of the economic and environmental contributions of waste-pickers has received scant attention. In addition, an exploration of strategies to improve the livelihoods of waste-pickers that takes advantage of their expertise and experience in recycling and environmental sustainability is also lacking. Instead, industrialized models of waste management strategies have been proposed to address the waste crisis. These models are inappropriate because they fail to account for current economic, social, and political conditions of the informal sector in developing nations. Rather than building on the waste management models used in industrialized nations, this note proposes that developing countries encourage the existing systems of waste management practiced by waste-pickers by improving the employment conditions and opportunities in this informal sector. This paper argues that economic and entrepreneurial programs, specifically programs in microfinance and the creation of "Recycling Schools," be employed to capitalize on waste-pickers' overlooked skills in waste management. It further argues that such a focus will result in the improved economic and social well-being of waste-pickers while concurrently preserving the environment through effective waste management strategies. Because the majority of waste-pickers are women and children, an examination of gender roles and the vulnerability of children are also presented.

Informal Economy Topic
Occupational group
Publication Type