Waste Pickers cry for recognition
But for waste pickers, filth would swallow, especially the urban centres, where refuse trucks hardly come around to collect domestic wastes.
The waste pickers’ duty does not only end in our communities, but at the landfills where they segregate recyclable materials from non-degradable ones.
At the landfills, the waste pickers are exposed to critical health hazards, including difficulty in breathing, poor vision and physical injuries, and these are a result of the severe lack of protective clothing – nose masks, gloves, boots, face shields and dresses. This makes them one of the vulnerable groups whose contributions to solid waste management and environmental services cannot be overlooked.
A recent study conducted by Women in Informal Employment Globalisation and Organisation (WIEGO) on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on informal workers in Accra, for instance, showed that waste pickers and their families have been vulnerable and hardest hit by the global and national crisis.
The study revealed that waste pickers have reduced earnings primarily due to reductions in the prices and volumes of biodegradable waste materials. It said, as of April 2020, waste pickers were earning only nine percent of their average pre-crisis remuneration, i.e. February 2020 earnings, with 80 percent of the respondents reporting no earnings at all due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It went on to show that waste pickers did not receive any support from the Covid-19 relief programmes (food aid and cash) announced by the government.
Lastly, WIEGO said about 88 percent waste pickers do not have personal protective equipment of their own, although their activities are essential services.
Therefore, on the occasion of the International Waste Pickers’ Day on March 1, The Chronicle engaged Johnson Doe and Divine Dekonor, Chairman and Secretary of the Kpone Landfill Waste Pickers’ Association respectively, in a conversation to further understand and appreciate their work as key stakeholders involved in waste management, and providing environmental services to the nation.
“We are not recognised because most Ghanaians do not consider our work as important, but we thank you for your visit to the Kpone Landfill,” Johnson Doe said rather sadly to open the conversation.
He was sad that the government and non-governmental organisations that did charity during the pandemic failed to recognise waste pickers too, as essential service providers.
“We were not targeted as a group in need of Covid-19 relief support measures. In fact, no effort was made to support waste pickers with appropriate protective equipment, food items, financial aid, medical aid and other necessities to address the extraordinary drop in our earnings and increase in stress and risk caused by the pandemic.
“We are not consulted in anything. For instance, as the Kpone landfill is the main source of income and livelihood for about 500 waste pickers and our families, the decision by the government to proceed with the decommissioning and re-engineering of the site without due consultation with waste pickers, or provision of livelihood safeguarding measures, has had dire consequences for the livelihoods of waste pickers and our families. Waste pickers should be consulted on what adequate livelihood safeguarding measures are needed now that the dumpsite has been decommissioned, and these safeguards should be provided. Whereas waste pickers are a key stakeholder involved in waste management and providing environmental services in the country, we call for recognition and effective inclusion through membership-based organisations in decision making processes and structures that have implications for waste pickers,” he explained.
And one way they can be recognised as one of the essential service providers, Johnson Doe said is for the government to integrate waste pickers across the country in the solid waste management systems of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) through the provision of contracts for recycling service provision and secure conditions of work.
He said: “Waste pickers working on the Kpone Landfill have been proactively exploring and piloting waste collection services in low-income coastal communities that are underserved by the current system. Now, we need to be supported by the government and private sector with the requisite logistics, infrastructure and subsidies and assisted to secure community waste management contracts from MMDAs.”
International Waste Pickers’ Day is marked annually on March 1 in honour of eleven waste pickers who were brutally killed at a Colombian University in 1992. On that day, staff at the university lured the workers into the institution with the promise of recyclable materials. Once inside, the workers were beaten and shot so that their organs could be trafficked and sold and their bodies used for medical research.
This vicious incident is remembered annually by waste pickers and their partner organisations like WIEGO and Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, as tribute to the eleven waste pickers killed that day.
The day is also used to highlight the challenges and demands of waste pickers across the globe.