Waste pickers' livelihoods consist of combing landfills and neighborhoods to collect pieces of plastic trash. Individually, these items are almost worthless, but if enough are bundled together, they may be sold for recycling. These communities provide a vital service but are compromised by their living conditions and marginalized by their lack of status. They are being severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and need urgent support to deal with its consequences.
Many waste picker groups are in extreme need of short-term financial assistance in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In jurisdictions where people are on strict lockdown orders, many day wage laborers are stranded and left unable to feed their families. In India, the waste pickers of Bhalsawa landfill are desperate for food and sometimes have only weak tea to give to their children. In Haryana, waste pickers have no water to wash their hands to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Plastic Pickers Operational Working Group (POW) is a collaborative network of organizations supporting the work of waste pickers. POW is raising funds to extend a lifeline to these communities and ward off further extreme hunger and disease by providing rations, soap, water, protective equipment, masks, and basic health treatments. Meridian Institute, a nonprofit that facilitates the POW, will assist these groups via rapid distribution of funds and addressing broader needs.
POW was established in 2019 to empower waste collector organizations and build capacity for improving their lives. Beyond COVID-19, waste collectors also face ongoing challenges including working conditions, finding markets for the materials of value they recover, avoiding child labor, providing health care, and financing to improve technology and associated infrastructure. In parallel to supporting access to funding to address the impacts of COVID-19, POW will address these longer-term needs.