The project

IWPAR Presentation

Overall objective

To improve social inclusion and ensure an access to a more adequate social protection system for informal waste pickers and recyclers (IWPAR) in Madagascar, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Colombia.

Specific objectives

  • To improve the working conditions of the IWPAR, reducing health risk factors.
  • To improve access to health insurance and services -for IWPAR at a local level.
  • To insert or stabilize IWPAR organisations into integrated waste management systems.
Waste picker in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Waste picker in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Waste pickers marching on Global Waste Pickers Day in Bogota Waste pickers marching on Global Waste Pickers Day in Bogota


Addis Abbaba (Ethiopia)      Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)      Antananarivo (Madagascar)      Bogota (Colombia)


1st January



  • On the status, working conditions and access to social protection of IWPAR.
  • On the formal and community-based health insurance system offers in each context and the main health risk in order to determinate the most appropriate forms of access to social protection for IWPRs.
  • On the identification of stable, legal and safe sources of recyclable materials and commercial partners for the resale of recyclable or recycled materials, and the negotiation with private and public stakeholders

At the end of the project, a final assessment based on the experiences of these 4 countries will be published and used to lobby for more social inclusion and protection at national and local levels.


Capacity building

To strengthen IWPRs’ organizations: creation, capacity building on citizenship, technical issues, and dialogue with local authorities.


Sensitization and training

To sensitize and train IWPAR to access health insurance and services and raise public awareness on IWPRs to promote more social cohesion.

Collection of Best practices and experience sharing

To collect and translate best practices on social inclusion and protection for IWPRs (inclusive of waste management systems).



Who are the IWPARs?

IWPAR - Dakar (© Paul Antoine Pichard)
IWPAR - Dakar © Paul Antoine Pichard

The beneficiaries of this program are the Informal Waste Pickers and Recyclers (IWPAR):

  • informal waste pickers and
  • informal waste recyclers.

Waste pickers and recyclers recover "the reusable and recyclable materials that others have discarded as waste" (Samson 2009). They consist of the following categories: people rummaging through the garbage, private informal collectors of recyclable materials that sell to middlemen or companies, collectors/sorters organized and members of trade unions, cooperatives or associations. They collect household waste, commercial and industrial waste in municipal garbage trucks. Some live and work on landfills, others work in the recycling warehouses or work as sorters in recycling plants belonging to community-based organizations (Dias 2010). Most IWPARs come from districts or are migrants from neighboring provinces, and cannot consequently have access to official support to regularize their vehicles and access to social services such as health care and education.

How much are they?

There are few quantitative studies on IWPARs, most are qualitative (ethnographic studies, profiles of social workers on specific sites or cities). In the case of existing quantitative studies, they often rely on small samples, making generalizations difficult. Moreover, the nature of the activity of the worker makes the estimate of the total population difficult, since IWPARs are mobile and that the number of the population varies seasonally. Finally, IPWARs mistrust research on them because they fear that such information are made public. It makes data collection difficult.

A study by the World Bank in 1988 estimated that IWPARs represent 1-2% of the world population (Bartone 1988). In India, their number is estimated at 1.5 million people (Chaturvedi 2010), 15.000 Montevideo, Uruguay, and 9.000 in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Schamber et al. 2007).

In Colombia, IWPARs represent 18 000 families in Bogota, 80 000 in the whole country i.e 300 000 people. In Addis Ababa, the door-to-door collectors of solid waste are composed of over 600 associations comprising 104 176 individuals, 50% of them are elderly women. Young people who engage in the collection of recyclable waste (house to house and in the neighborhoods) are called "Qorales" and are in number 240. In Ho Chi Minh City, the informal waste collectors are estimated at about 2 500 - 3,500, not counting the dumpster and seasonal IWPARs. Women represent 50% of them. In Antananarivo, there is no global data, but in addition to 200 IWPARs supported by Enda, thousands of families live from waste collection in the 460 municipal dumpsters (Enda, 2010).

Brazil is the only country that regularly conducts studies and reports on official statistical data on IWPARs.

How much do they earn?

The IWPARs are not employees, their income depends on the weight and value (which depends on international prices of raw materials) for the waste they collect, their regions, type of business and whether they are men or women (men earn more than women and that, in all age groups (Informal Economy Budget Analysis in Brazil and Belo Horizonte, WIEGO, 2010). in general, wages rarely exceed euros 80 per month.

In Cambodia, IWPAR earn a dollar a day (ILO/IPEC 2004). In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, approximately 59% of IWPARs are paid less than minimum wage. En revanche, bien que les IWPAR représentent la catégorie la moins payée de la chaine du recyclage, ils peuvent recevoir un salaire supérieur au salaire minimum comme au Brésil ou au Mexique.

What contributions?

IWPAR - Senegal (© enda Europe)
IWPAR - Sénégal (© enda Europe)

IWPAR carry out an “informal public service” of waste management which should be recognized as such by the local authorities. Informal waste recuperation, re-use and recycling practices are widespread. In HCMC (Vietnam), approx. 7000 tons of municipal solid waste is produced daily, but only around 5900 tons is collected and disposed officially, i.e. IWPAR contribute to over 16 %. This is due to limited access by the formal city waste collection service to residential peripheral areas that are located in narrow streets and alleys.
They help to:

  • Improving health and public sanitation.
  • Reducing municipal expenditures, since in many cities, IWPAR provide the only service of solid waste collection.
  • Preserving the environment. IWPARs divert a large amount of material of the formal circuit, but through the recovery, recycling and education on environment, they reduce waste, protect ecosystems, reduce the number of raw materials used in the production of a new object and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions through composting...
  • Generating activities for the local economy, which enables to secure and improve thousands of jobs in the informal collection and recycling of waste.

Marginalized but crucial actors

IWPAR at rest - Dakar (© Paul Antoine Pichard)
IWPAR au repos - Dakar (© Paul Antoine Pichard)

Despite their environmental, health and economic usefulness, IWPAR are stigmatized and forced to leave cities (e.g. during the closure of landfills that do not accommodate hundreds of IWPAR families). The IWPAR are often brought to justice and are not safe from physical attacks. Often, they also face exploitation and intimidation from intermediaries (which also affects their salaries) and in particular, women, who are many among IWPAR, are victims of exclusionary policies against them.

The difficult working conditions and inexistent social protection

IWPAR - Dakar (© Paul Antoine Pichard)
IWPAR - Dakar (© Paul Antoine Pichard)

Waste handling causes many health risks, exacerbated among IWPAR due to unprotected exposure to contaminants and daily hazardous materials, faecal matter, paper saturated with toxic materials, cylinders containing chemical residues, residues medical needles contaminated with heavy metals in batteries… They also risk injury every day, especially those working on open dumps (risk of being hit by a truck, breathing toxic fumes, wear heavy objects, static posture, repetition of movements, sore back ...).

Either called Catadores in Brazil, Qorales in Ethiopia, Zabbaleen in Egypt or just Recicladores in Colombia, none of them is covered by a formal system of social security. The proportion of the population having access to formal health coverage is not significant in the four countries of IWPAR project. In Colombia, 62% of the population has access to formal health insurance under a 1993 law that extended health coverage to informal workers1. But this is not necessarily a reality for informal recyclers. In Vietnam, the majority of the workforce has access to mandatory public health insurance, except for informal workers. The private health insurance is not yet established in this country.

A necessary organization

Officials and Representatives of the seven districts in Ho Chi Minh City
Officials and Representatives
of the seven districts in Ho Chi Minh City
during the presentation of IWPAR
by Enda Vietnam (September 9, 2011)

IWPARs are traditionally known for their independence and individualism but are more and more favorable to their organization in order to have a common voice to fight for their recognition as human beings and professionals for their rights and a fair share in the waste management formal systems. They are organized in different ways: cooperatives and associations, private companies, unions, small businesses ... Some organizations are exclusively women to better confront the gender stereotypes.

Enda promeut le regroupement des IWPAR au sein d’organisations depuis des années en Colombie, au Vietnam, à Madagascar, au Maroc, au Sénégal et en Ethiopie pour les mettre en position de discuter collectivement de leurs problèmes, renforcer leur reconnaissance par les autorités locales, leur permettre de travailler dans la légalité et à une meilleure prise en charge de leur santé (plans de prévention et accès aux services de santé et à une assurance maladie) …
The size of the IWPARs’ organizations depends on countries and regions:

  • In Latin America, a few organizations of IWPARs are as old as the "Cooperativa Antioqueña of Recolectores of Subproductos" formed in Medellin, Colombia in 1962. However, the upsurge in violence and further activism emerged in the 1990s. The "Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá " (ARB) was established in 1990. In 2005 the first conference of Latin American recyclers network (Latin American Waste Pickers’ Network (LAWPN) was held in Brazil. This network now includes movements and associations of recyclers from 16 countries.
  • In India, the "Alliance of Indian Wastepickers" (AIW) is a national network of 35 recyclers’ organizations in 22 cities. A recyclers' union has also been created, known under the name of KKPKP.
  • In December 2010, the "Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and Allies" spoke at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 16) in Cancun, Mexico to attract international attention to the need for policies that respect the global value of their work.

Our financial partners

European Commission German Ministry of Education Research French Ministry of Employment (CNASEA) Geneva Third World RAJA Fondation Grupo Familia Fondation Logo CDC Solidarity Developpement Logo

European Commission, German Ministry of Education, Research, French Ministry of Employment (CNASEA), Geneva Third World,
the Raja Foundation, the Grupo Familia Fondation and the CDC Solidarity Developpement association.