This is a post prepared by my good friend Maria Carolina Perdomo Rojas, an environmental engineer working at the Comisión de Regulación de Agua Potable y Saneamiento Básico CRA (Regulatory Commission for Drinking Water and Sanitation), in Bogota, Colombia. I met Carolina two years ago, in a waste management conference in Bucaramanga, and we shared some very interesting discussions regarding the role of informal recyclers in waste management and the ways to deal with them (see my 2012 paper). Carolina has a passion about the social aspects of waste management, but at the same time she keeps a professional attitude that allows her to approach the issues of informal recyclers with a sensitive, but still realistic approach. Enjoy the post.

Carolina Perdomo

My good friend Carolina Perdomo, Bogota, Colombia

“Back in the 80s, when I was a little girl, I used to hear the voice of a mature woman shouting “Bottleeees! Papeeeerrrr!” This woman pulled a small wagon carrying glass bottles and piles of old newspapers. I always wondered what this woman would do with all the bottles and papers collected daily through the streets of my neighbourhood, but I never went to ask her because everybody told me that people like her were undesirable and that they lived among the garbage.

It was not until I was in college, 15 years later, studying Environmental Engineering when I realized that those discriminated people, who make a living collecting, sorting, and selling the potentially valuable or useful materials thrown away by others, they were actually the precursors of recycling in our country and their work considered unworthy, brought with it great environmental benefits such as increase landfills lifespan and reduce extraction of raw material by supplying recycled materials to industries.

Now, 30 years later, informal waste pickers in Colombia, are an example worldwide because they have shown that through their union as a national association, they were able to defend their rights, to dignify their trade and the social recognition of the environmental and economic benefits of recycling. Thus, it was in 2011 when the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled in favor of waste pickers organizations, demanding the national government to drive the structural incorporation of the population in municipal waste management systems, especially the economic compensation for their services.

Then in 2013, the Ministries of Housing and Environment updated the Refused Collection Service regulations, including recycling as an important part of this utility. Consequently in 2015, selective collection activities and weighing and sorting of reusable materials, were included to be economic compensated through this utility fees. Additionally, last April, the Ministry of Housing, regulated the way in which recycling will take place in the country and established a program of progressive formalization for organizations of waste pickers to eliminate their vulnerability and become, within 5 years, in waste management entrepreneurs.

This 5 years program is based on 8 phases that should be accomplished by the waste pickers in order to fulfill progressively the administrative, commercial, financial and technical obligations established for any waste management company in Colombia. To help them achieve this goal, each municipality has to include into their Integrated Waste Management Plan – PGIRS- Programs for the social inclusion of recyclers based on topics as: Strengthening of business organization, technical and financial assistance to improve their collection, sorting, grading and recruitment of recyclable materials and create a joint agenda with the different municipal or district entities to support social issues related to health, education, housing, family, among others, affecting the recyclers population.

Even though this is only the beginning of a long way,  in Colombia there are already waste pickers organizations willing to leave behind their days of informality. With the support of various NGOs and the Government, they are ready to meet the new standards and to provide a quality recycling service to citizens.

If you want to learn more about Colombia´s Shift to inclusive recycling you can check this links:

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