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Understanding the informal waste and recovery sector

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Understanding the informal waste and recovery sector

Understanding the informal waste and recovery sector

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) unveiled a new report that highlights the role of more than 15 million people worldwide informally collecting and recovering solid waste to end plastic pollution.

The report, titled “Leaving no one behind: How a global instrument to end plastic pollution can enable a just transition for the people informally collecting and recovering waste”, was launched at the UN complex in Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya.

In some countries, the informal waste and recovery sector contributes to up to 90% of recycling. This means that the informal sector is essential in closing material loops and tackling the estimated 60 million tonnes of plastic annually escaping from municipal solid waste and polluting the environment, including water bodies.

“Every day, more than 1 million tonnes of waste impact our health and environment, including our oceans. Inadequate municipal solid waste management is one of the largest contributors to plastic pollution on land and water,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat. 

Considering the upcoming first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, the report argues that downstream measures are urgently needed integrate the informal sector.

“UNEA 5.2 concluded with a resolution to develop a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution and establish a science-policy panel to contribute to further the sound management of chemicals and waste. In a rapidly developing world, relevant and high-quality research should be at the forefront of decision-making,” said Thorjørn Larssen, Deputy Managing Director, NIVA.

Today, an estimated 2 billion people lack access to regular waste collection services, and 3 billion rely on open dumpsites. Attempts to improve municipal solid waste management and enhance material recovery should recognize and include the informal waste and recovery sector.

“The recognition and inclusion of stakeholders across the plastic recovery value chain in the forthcoming negotiations to end plastic pollution is key, including representatives for waste pickers, waste collectors, intermediate and apex traders, and informal workers engaged in transport, cleaning, and recycling activities,” said Kabir Arora, Asian Regional Coordinator, WIEGO, International Alliance of Waste-pickers.

The report concludes with possibilities for a just transition for the workers of the informal waste and recovery sector when negotiating and implementing a global instrument on plastic pollution.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Habitat.