New calculator reveals the amount of equivalent CO2 mitigated by waste picker activity

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In time for the COP 26 United Nations Climate Change Conference, a new tool for calculating greenhouse gas emissions mitigated by waste pickers activity will be shared with the public for the first time.

In 2020, waste pickers from Colombia’s Association of Recyclers of Bogotá (ARB) prevented the emissions of over 407 thousand tons of CO2 equivalent (eCO2), while India’s SWaCH Cooperative mitigated the emissions of more than 211 tons of CO2. Taken together, the avoided emissions are equivalent to removing a total of 133 thousand passenger cars from the road each year. This was calculated by the GHG Emissions Calculator 2.0, a new, first of its kind, calculator that estimates greenhouse gas emissions that waste picker organizations help prevent with their work.

As world leaders consider concrete actions and climate finance mechanisms during the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP 26) United Nations Climate Change Conference, the GHG Emissions Calculator 2.0 is a concrete tool to generate evidence of the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions through waste pickers’ activity.

What is in the tool?

The Calculator assesses five ways that waste pickers avoid greenhouse gas emissions through their work:

  1. Preventing organic and recyclable materials from decomposing in landfills and dumpsites.
  2. Preventing the use of virgin raw materials through recycling;
  3. Preventing the open burning of solid waste at landfills and other waste disposal sites;
  4. Sorting materials by hand, rather than using fuel-intensive sorting processes.
  5. Using manual transport or animal traction to collect and transport materials instead of motorized vehicles.

Watch the recording of the webinar launching the GHG Emissions Calculator 2.0:

Saving the Climate: Waste Pickers Contributions for a Cleaner Planet

If you desire further expert information or in-depth interviews about the topic, please contact Graciela Mora, Press Officer from WIEGO, at or via WhatsApp (+506)83585592, Eduardo Derrico from GlobalRec via WhatsApp (+330) 611 795 906, or Taylor Cass Talbott, Project Officer, Reducing Waste in Coastal Cities.

The calculator tool was developed by Green Partners Environmental Consulting, for Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), a research and policy network, and the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (GlobalRec), the global network of waste picker organizations. The tool was tested by waste picker organizations around the world in its development.

Inclusive recycling:

A job-intensive solution that’s good for the planet and good for people

A large share of the world’s waste is recycled and reused at the hands of waste pickers. Waste pickers collect household or commercial/industrial waste. They may collect from private waste bins or dumpsters, along streets and waterways or in dumps and landfills. Some rummage in search of necessities; others collect and sell recyclables to middlemen or businesses. Some work in recycling warehouses or recycling plants operated by their cooperatives or associations.

The few studies that have attempted to document the climate impacts of waste pickers have shown them to make contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gases through their expansive and low-tech recycling and reuse practices. But as cities grow and government leaders face pressure to modernize waste management systems, preference is usually given to capital and carbon-intensive technologies, private waste management firms and technologies that displace waste pickers. As a way of defending and improving their livelihoods, many waste pickers around the world have organized themselves into associations and cooperatives. The goal of waste picker organizing is to increase the degree to which waste pickers are integrated into more formal waste management systems.

Inclusive Recycling Systems are the product of considerable advocacy on the part of waste picker organizations and their supporters. This tool will help demonstrate that integrating waste pickers into more formal systems enhances their ability to reduce GHG emissions when compared with more capital-intensive waste management providers. As world leaders meet at the COP26, waste pickers are calling for inclusive recycling systems to be included in climate planning and finance mechanisms. This data shows concrete results:

  • The Association of Recyclers of Bogotá (ARB) prevents the emission of 407,750 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (equivalent of 88,641 passenger cars driving per year)
  • India’s SWaCH waste picker cooperative prevents the emission of 211,061 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (equivalent of 45,882 passenger cars driving per year)
  • Waste pickers on Dakar’s Mbeubeuss dumpsite prevent the emission of 79,589 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (equivalent of 17,301 passenger cars driving per year)
  • Argentina’s Amanecer Cooperative prevents the emission of 91,346 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (equivalent of 19,858 passenger cars driving per year)
  • In 2019, Accra’s Kpone Landfill, waste pickers prevented the emission of 23,497 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (or the equivalent of 5,108 passenger cars driving per year)
  • Sure We Can in NYC prevents the emission of 1,905 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (equivalent of 414 passenger cars driving per year), and estimates that, as a whole, canners (waste pickers) in NYC are preventing the emission of 466,927 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (equivalent of 101,506 passenger cars driving per year)
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