In countries across the Asia-Pacific, including India, women waste pickers in the informal economy strive to recycle paper packaging, PET bottles, glass and plastic packaging, an important part of reducing waste and mitigating the environmental damage caused by pollution. At the same time, major corporations – including the world’s biggest food and personal care companies – claim to be recycling plastics, but fail to ensure the collection and recycling of their multilayered plastic packaging. This is a major source of plastics pollution in urban and rural areas and in coastal communities.
Multilayered plastic packaging is used in most of the products we consume from potato chips (crisps) and snack and biscuit packaging to the plastic sachets for detergents, liquid soaps and shampoo. However, the major companies producing these products are not taking action to ensure this kind of packaging is collected for recycling.
Since the companies are not paying to collect multilayered plastics for recycling, waste buyers have no one to sell it to. And as long as waste buyers are not buying it, there is no financial incentive for waste pickers to collect it. As a result it continues to add to massive landfills, while polluting agricultural lands, lakes and reservoirs, and coastal areas.
If companies are serious about reducing multilayered plastics pollution, they must first commit to the most important part of the recycling chain: the waste pickers who collect plastics for recycling. There must be a fair financial incentive for waste pickers in the informal economy who are on the front-line of waste recycling. This in effect would generate better paid “green jobs” in the informal economy and must be a part of companies’ commitments to environmental sustainability and just transitions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Unilever’s Surf Excel is among the many detergent sachets, along with shampoo and soap sachets, causing widespread plastics pollution that is outside the scope of recycling efforts
Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) members in India working in waste collection and recycling in the informal economy are saving the environment and driving just transitions.
Women workers working in the informal economy collect the waste from the dumping yards (waste landfills), sort it and supply it to the collection center for recycling. They strive to recycle paper packaging, PET bottles, glass and plastic packaging, an important part of reducing waste and mitigating the environmental damage caused by pollution.
Women workers sorting waste in the collection center for recycling.
SEWA has set up collection centers where members carefully sort and classify waste for recycling. This brings into recycling a massive volume of discarded plastic and paper that escapes the limited capacity and reach for the formal economy.
The work done by women engaged in waste picking and in collection centers for recycling is a vital contribution to efforts to save the environment and reduce pollution. While governments and international agencies allocate significant resources for “green job” creation in the future, the fact is that these women workers are already engaged in “green jobs” in the informal economy. This is also an essential part of just transitions.
Despite this, very few green economy or just transition policies, programs and strategies include workers in the informal economy.
Women working in the the green informal economy must receive greater recognition of their essential work. This recognition of their vital role also means that they deserve better wages and incomes commensurate to the value of their work, and have access to social security, health insurance and benefits as workers.
Women workers at a waste dump site collecting waste for recycling
Women workers sorting waste in the collection center for recycling