Group Calls for Action to Lessen Toxic Exposure of Waste Pickers

Quezon City. A waste and toxic watchdog pressed the government and the general public to show their appreciation to the very significant role of waste pickers in resource recovery and conservation by taking steps to reduce their exposure to health-damaging chemicals in waste bins and dumps.

The EcoWaste Coalition called for increased societal attention to reducing the occupational health risks faced daily by waste pickers at the first of a series of workshops on chemical safety for vulnerable sectors organized last Tuesday by the group under its Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).

The workshop drew participants from waste pickers’ groups based in Pier 18 and Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila as well as Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, Jr. and representatives of the Manila Health Department, National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) and various civil society organizations.

“Kami ay nagagalak sa unti-unting pagkilala sa aming papel sa pagreresiklo ng basura at sa pangangalaga ng kalikasan at klima. Ang pagkilalang ito ay maging instrumento nawa upang mapabuti ang aming marangal subalit peligrosong trabaho at para mapagkalooban kami ng mga batayang serbisyo para sa kapakinabangan ng aming mga pamilya,” said Ka Louie Lizano of the Nagkakaisang Mananambakan ng Dumpsite Area.

Waste pickers have to confront serious occupational health and safety risks due to the nature of their work and the hazardous working and living conditions in dumpsite communities, the workshop participants noted.

“Aside from enduring exposure to the elements such as severe heat, waste pickers have to forage for recyclables in mixed trash containing harmful chemicals, sharp objects and even infectious discards,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT.

“The growing practice of recycling electronic waste and scrap such as spent fluorescent lamps, capacitors and transformers, batteries, computers and TVs in sidewalks, homes and dumpsites can expose waste workers and their communities to extremely toxic chemicals, including mercury, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls and flame retardants, which can cause illness and death,” he added.

“We owe it to the informal waste sector to create and support conditions for recycling that will not put their health and that of their families and communities in danger,” he pointed out.

Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, Jr. who also heads the Public Affairs Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that “the waste pickers belong to the poorest of the poor who work in the most difficult and toxic condition to make ends meet.”

“In appreciation of their role in the recycling chain, let us do whatever is necessary to make their work more humane and less injurious to their health,” appealed the Bishop of the Diocese of Caloocan.

Both Emy Aguinaldo, officer-in-charge of the NSWMC, and Eileen Sison, NGO Representative to the NSWMC, reported about the ongoing process involving the various stakeholders to respond to the socio-economic and occupational health and safety needs of the informal waste sector.

The EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT, among others, seeks to raise public awareness and action on harmful substances that can endanger human as well as community health and safety.