Waste pickers collect food waste, help combat climate change

Waste pickers collect food waste, help combat climate change

Amid a growing global focus on sustainability and reducing emissions, waste pickers are proving to be a critical part of the effort to combat climate change.

These informal workers, who are typically found in developing countries, forage for food waste and other materials from garbage heaps, landfills, and other disposal sites. By collecting and segregating this material, waste pickers help divert it from landfills, thereby preventing the release of the methane gas that is generated when organic matter decomposes in those areas.

The waste pickers generally sell the collected items to recyclers or informal traders, and the income they earn from doing this is essential to their survival.

A study of the waste picker population in India, conducted by the International Labour Organization, found that these workers are particularly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. As the authors of the study note, “due to their lack of legal recognition and formal status as workers, they experience a lack of access to social benefits, such as health services and pensions.”

Despite the challenges they face, waste pickers are making a meaningful contribution to the effort to reduce emissions and curb climate change. A recent report by the World Bank estimated that waste pickers in India alone prevent the release of around 55 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, the equivalent of taking 11.5 million cars off the road.

Furthermore, the report concluded that the waste pickers’ efforts save Indian municipalities approximately $1.2 billion in avoided landfill costs annually.

Given their vital role in helping to reduce emissions and curb climate change, it is essential that waste pickers are adequately supported and compensated for their efforts, with their legal recognition and formal status as workers being an important part of this.

Only with these measures in place can the waste pickers be properly incentivized to continue their efforts, and ensure that their contribution to the fight against climate change is not overlooked.