In celebration of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28,we would like to draw attention to the plight of wastepickers, who are among the most marginalized members of our society.
Wastepickers belong to the informal recycling sector and are typically not recognized by formal institutions and the local governments where they belong. They contribute tremendously to the retrieval of recyclable materials from bins and dumps, but are often ostracized because of the nature of their job.
Thousands of wastepickers, including minors, work in the more than 1,000 dumpsites throughout the country. From dawn until dusk, they rummage through tons of garbage brought by the endless parade of garbage trucks and recover bottles, plastics, cans, steel, and other items of value to be sold to junkyards and recycling centers. Everyday, they are exposed to dangerous and toxic chemicals and materials, and risk being fatally hit by
bulldozers and garbage trucks.
In a recent visit to Pier 18, a transfer station for Manila’s mixed garbage en route to a “sanitary” landfill in Navotas, we were again confronted by the stark, naked face of poverty: that of men, women and children subsisting on the very things that many Filipinos would not touch with their bare hands.
We saw children as young as three years old walking barefooted among the broken glasses, copper wires, and burning tires, and wading thigh-deep into the mounds of hospital syringes, rotting food, and all kinds of wastes imaginable to recover a few precious kilos of plastics and cans.
And we were once again struck by the sheer inequality in our society, by the fact that we cannot wait to get rid of our discards and throw amazing tantrums when the garbage truck does not come, and yet there are people who live for the arrival of garbage.
While affirming the role and sacrifice being made by our sister and brother “mangangalahig” in the recycling of our discards and in making our communities livable, we cannot help but say that there is no room for this extremely toxic job in a truly humane and “civilized” society.
We therefore urge the authorities, especially the local government units, to pay attention to the needs of the wastepickers and initiate programs that will provide them with decent and sustainable livelihood in a safe, healthy and humane environment.
Task Force on Wastepickers’ Concerns
Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 9290376