Globally, an estimated 20 million people earn their living from recycling waste. Waste work involves the collection, sorting and processing of used or discarded materials. Waste workers generally have little or no health and safety protection. Their workplaces, whether in the streets, open dumps, sanitary landfills or sorting warehouses, present different types and degrees of risk. Workers are exposed to injuries and disease from exposure to medical waste, heavy metals, dust and chemical vapours, and hot and cold environments. Working conditions are precarious, contributing to socio-economic and psychological stress.
The purpose of this statement is to express the Waste Workers Occupational Safety and Health (WWOSH) Committee’s support for the recognition of waste pickers as essential service providers who make a major contribution to human and environmental health, and to call for urgent measures to reduce the risks of COVID-19 infection that they and their families face.