Aug 9, 2021

August 2021 Plastic Waste Reclaimers Update

Since reporting in April 2021, the Waste Reclaimers Workgroup (PRW) has continued to work closely with the Ocean Plastic Leadership Network (OPLN) to raise awareness of how plastic reclaimers lives are impacted by the rapidly growing quantity of plastic waste all over the globe.  Meridian Institute, which works with both PRW and OPLN, facilitated a series of discussions in July 2021 in which multi-national companies, NGOs and governmental representatives were asked to articulate a wide range of issues pertinent to the possible initiation of negotiations for a global treaty on plastics.  OPLN is a membership organization committed to engaging all stakeholders in a robust discussion of the challenges posed by plastic waste.  The insights gained in these discussions will be used to educate country-by-country UN negotiators charged with developing the Global Treaty on Plastic Waste.  The goal is to provide the UN negotiators with an overview of where stakeholders have alignment or differences regarding the extent to which plastic is causing harm to people and the planet.  Consideration will also be given to what needs to happen to manage these wastes responsibly.  Because many people are simply unaware of the role waste reclaimers play in global management of plastic waste, PRW, Meridian and OPLN continue to seek opportunities to share insights about the work of waste reclaimers.

To bring the role of waste reclaimers alive at the OPLN Global Plastic Waste Dialogues, PRW enlisted the assistance of individuals who had either personally collected waste (or were very familiar with the issues important to collectors), to attend the Global Dialogue and engage in the discussions.  Using translation services, as well as facilitated cross-cultural discussions, the waste reclaimers shared information about types of plastic waste that are particularly difficult for them to collect, sell or dispose.  In an unusual back and forth discussion, the reclaimers were willing to offer suggestions and make recommendations for what could be done to help them be more effective at collecting plastic waste from landfills and other locations.  Companies, some of which produce the products the waste reclaimers had highlighted, participated in the meeting as well.  Everyone was able to listen and ask clarifying questions. Despite the massive challenges created by plastic waste, the waste reclaimers noted that some plastic products have improved their lives and livelihoods.

In the coming months, the Plastic Reclaimers Workgroup will discuss principles of engagement they recommend be monitored when various organizations engage with this sector.  Issues such as adherence to child labor laws, renumeration, access to clean water, food, safe shelter, medical care, and other humanitarian issues have been identified.  In addition, Meridian will be working with OPLN to identify additional platforms for visibility including further participation in the development of the UN Global Plastic Waste Treaty. 

With the support of organizations like GlobalGiving, Dow Corporation, and individuals like you, we look forward to continuing to support the work of waste reclaimers who play a key role in the creation of a circular economy of materials.   

Apr 12, 2021

April 2021 Plastic Reclaimers Update

Since reporting in December 2020, Meridian has continued to facilitate the work of the Plastic Reclaimers Workgroup (PRW).  This is a group of senior leaders from five organizations:  Mr. Green Africa (Kenya); Plastics for Change (India); Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group (India); Thread/First Mile/WORK (Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan) and the global NGO WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing) (1).  Together these organization have extensive business and NGO experience working with waste reclaimers/waste pickers.  Meridian’s role is to make sure important discussions between these two sectors happen on a regular basis.

PRW’s relationship-building and collaboration has demonstrated the benefit of a (live) forum to exchange information about waste reclaimers.  PRW aims to achieve tangible changes in the lives of reclaimer communities including - fair distribution of profits; access to health care; worker safety; child labor protections; avoidance of predatory lending practices and pathways to a better future.  PRW is also positioned to enhance corporate understanding of the untapped potential of waste reclaimers to accelerate bothclean-up and recycling of unmanaged plastic waste around the globe. 

Companies from a range of sectors and supply chains, NGOs, governments and the public have a host of reasons to be interested in the link between waste reclaimers and plastic waste.  Some will be primarily interested in identifying ways to mitigate the environmental damage plastic waste causes. Other are interested in finding sources of used plastic to incorporate into new products, as access to recycled plastic PCR(post-consumer resin) poses a competitive advantage.  Still other companies are interested in developing relationships with waste reclaimer/waste picker communities to enable this massive global workforce to become productive players in company supply chains. Understandably, all parties want to be informed about risks that come into play when unfamiliar entities begin working together. PRW provides access to well-developed options for mitigating these and other challenges. 

In 2022, the United Nations will determine whether to pursue a Global Treaty to prevent Plastic Pollution.  In preparation for those discussions, members of PRW played an important role in the Ocean Plastics Leadership Institute’s (OPLN) first Global Policy Dialogue held in March 2021.  This series of four Policy Dialogues, is hosted by OPLN, Meridian, World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Greenpeace, and others.  The intent is to bring multiple stakeholders concerned about the consequences of plastic waste together to map and accelerate agreement on recommendations to recommend to the United Nations negotiators for inclusion in the global treaty.  Understanding of the role waste reclaimers play in remediating plastic pollution, as described in this uplifting video (see here), is an important goal for the Dialogues.

Much remains to be accomplished to build a circular economy and manage the human/social crisis aspect of the plastic waste problem.  PRW has an unusual vantage from which to amplify both. With the support of organizations like GlobalGiving, Dow Corporation and individuals like you, Meridian will continue to accelerate connections and understandings between the sectors.

Links:

Dec 15, 2020

Dec 2020 Update: Spotlight on African Reclaimers

Cleanup of dumpsite to establish a garden
Cleanup of dumpsite to establish a garden

While funds raised by Meridian’s platform supported four waste picker/collector groups, our 4th Quarter GlobalGiving report features the work of ARO, the African Reclaimers’ Organization. ARO is an organization of approximately 6,000 informal workers who collect recyclables from Johannesburg's streets and landfills. Last spring the combined impact of COVID-19 and seasonal market fluctuations caused the price of many recycled materials to drop over 80%. Many Reclaimers live and sort plastics and other wastes on the banks of an urban river called the Juskei. They build their homes dangerously close to the river banks and also use the river to clean their materials.

 

In the summer of 2020, ARO was asked to assist a group of Reclaimers working with community leaders from an established residential neighborhood that did not like having Reclaimers camping in nearby open space. These homeowners, together with police and an environmental NGO had plans to forcibly remove Reclaimers from a section of the river near Malibongwe, a high-income area in northern Johannesburg. ARO’s goal was to build a mutually beneficial alliance to prevent the Reclaimers from eviction by organizing a greatly needed trash clean-up in the vicinity of the camp.

 

The clean-up involved removing all pollutants from a section of the river and surrounding terrain and relocating Reclaimers to a more appropriate location. In addition, ARO secured the Reclaimers commitment to curb residential break-ins and other crimes that were being committed in the vicinity. The project helped Reclaimers understand the benefits of relating to residents differently, and for residents to recognize the services Reclaimers provide and relate to them as the human beings. A portion of the GlobalGiving funds were used to hire a truck to remove the waste from the clean-up area and deliver it to Reclaimers in different parts of Johannesburg for further cleaning, processing and extraction of recyclables. ARO also distributed food and sanitizer to these Reclaimers, many of whom had lost all sources of income due to the pandemic.

 

Because this campaign was successful, ARO is now in discussion with over 1000 households to collect recyclables that were previously denied to Reclaimers. The river, its banks and the surrounding area is being turned into a park. The same approach is now being extended to two other areas where Reclaimers are facing similar issues. ARO reported to Meridian: “We are honored to have been a recipient of GlobalGiving funds this summer. Your support was a big relief for us and gave us flexibility to be mobile and responsive. As a new organization, ARO is finding its feet and always looking for opportunities to promote Reclaimers and their work.”

Drone footage of Malibongwe before cleanup
Drone footage of Malibongwe before cleanup
Reclaimers hauling bags from  the riverbank
Reclaimers hauling bags from the riverbank
Residents inspecting the area after cleanup
Residents inspecting the area after cleanup
Vegetable garden planted after cleanup
Vegetable garden planted after cleanup
 
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