By Cristina van der Westhuyzen and Rainer Stegmann
The social aspects of waste are often ignored or underestimated by present-day waste management strategies hinged on advanced technology to process the vast amounts of waste produced globally.
There is however an increasing appreciation for the need to consider and value these aspects when solving waste problems and finding new solutions.
This is particularly true for developing and transient countries where the Informal Sector plays an important role in waste management.
In parts of the world, such as Brazil, efforts have been made to organize and structure the work done by the Informal Sector and to incorporate informal activities into waste management plans.
The challenges faced by workers in the Informal Sector are many, ranging from hazardous, unsanitary work conditions to poor remuneration.
Waste pickers, also known as “scavengers”, looking for recyclable goods on landfills are exposed to toxic fumes, bad hygienic conditions, dangerous compounds lurking in the heaps and ruthless dumping vehicles.
The perils are many and the rewards are few however, in countries with high unemployment rates, this form of occupation is sometime the only means of survival for many people.
There are numerous examples of programs where the waste management activities of the Informal Sector have been successfully organized to build the capacity of disadvantaged communities and to improve their living conditions whilst increasing the volumes of waste recovered for recycling, cleaning up polluted areas and introducing treatment procedures that contribute to waste reduction.