EcoWaste Coalition: “Say ‘thank you’ to your neighborhood recyclers this Christmas”

In the last few days of merrymaking and partying before Christmas Day finally arrives, the EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and pollution watchdog, called on all Filipino families to say “thank you” to those who reclaim and recycle the discards that our throwaway culture generates.

“In this season of giving, let us not forget to thank the waste pickers and other recyclers for doing such a difficult, but extremely beneficial, job,” said Roy Alvarez, president of the EcoWaste Coalition. “They deserve our utmost respect for their efforts to recover the resources that we so carelessly throw away and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal.”

To show our appreciation, the EcoWaste Coaltion suggests segregating household and workplace discards and giving the clean recyclables directly to community recyclers instead of dumping them all into one garbage can.

It also suggested clearing drawers and cabinets of clutter such as old but still useable clothes, books, school supplies and other necessities which could be given to recyclers as gifts.

“We could also show our appreciation for their services that are too often ignored by sharing home-cooked dishes or desserts with them, or by offering to shoulder the cost of fixing any recycling carts (kariton) that need to be repaired,” said Alvarez.

Concerned citizens could also offer gifts to protect waste pickers from the elements or from occupational hazards. The EcoWaste Coalition suggests giving umbrellas, rain coats, used rubber or utility shoes and dust masks for this purpose.

For its part, the EcoWaste Coalition will be providing noche buena packs to the families of 11 waste pickers from Pier 18 in Tondo, Manila. The 11 waste pickers are collaborating with the coalition on a study regarding the informal recyclers’ exposure to mercury in the course of their work.

“Just a little bit of effort from us citizens can give a lot of comfort to this marginalized sector of society,” said Alvarez. “Even the smallest of gifts can go a long way towards putting a smile on the waste pickers’ faces this Christmas.”

Informal recycling is a source of much-needed livelihood for thousands of poor families, but it also puts the health and safety of these informal workers at risk, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

The coalition is particularly concerned with the unhygienic and dangerous working conditions of the informal recyclers. Many of them forage in dumps and bins, which could potentially contain toxic chemicals or hazardous materials, for recyclable materials that they could sell for a pittance.

“Since the required separation of discards at the point of generation is still poorly implemented in the country, most waste pickers have to contend with handling all types of mixed wastes, often without any precautions against exposure and contamination from dangerous materials,” said Eileen Sison, NGO Representative to the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC).

“If we, as a society, could practice segregation at home, we would not have to subject the waste pickers to the risks and hazards of sorting through our mixed wastes in order to make a living,” said Sison.

Citing the 2009 National Framework Plan for the Informal Waste Sector in Solid Waste Management prepared by the NSWMC, the coalition revealed that the informal waste sector recovers as much as 20% of the total mixed wastes generated by households and industries at little to no cost to local governments and taxpayers.

The hidden price of this informal recycling for waste pickers, however, is the toll that their work takes on their health and well being. Waste pickers have no social or economic security, have limited access to basic services, and work in extremely unhealthy conditions.