Partnerships for recycling

Project description

Title: Promotion of pro-poor and environmentally sound recycling strategies
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Supraregional
Overall term: 2003 to 2011



According to Agenda 21, each year about 5.2 million people around the world die of diseases linked to problems with waste disposal. Uncontrolled dumping of waste pollutes cities, soil, air and water, and poses a serious risk to public health. The disproportionate growth of cities presents many municipal authorities with a virtually insurmountable problem.

It is only due to the activities of informal waste collectors that many cities are not completely buried in waste. These people go by different names in different countries: pepenadores, catadores or waste pickers, to name but a few. They collect, sort and recycle waste to earn their usually meagre living – often under conditions that damage the environment and do harm to their health. As a rule, more than half of these workers are women. Various sources estimate that between 15 and 50 million people work in the informal waste sector. However, due to the informal nature of the work and the fluctuating prices of materials, which influence the variable numbers of people performing the work at any given time, it is difficult to give a precise figure.

The activities of the public sector, private waste disposal companies and the informal sector are rarely coordinated. The trend towards the privatisation of disposal services brings with it the danger that the informal sector will lose its niche role. No strategies exist for integrating the informal sector into a closed-loop waste management system in the long term.


The informal sector receives greater consideration in the waste management projects of international development cooperation. Strategies and instruments have been developed and piloted for integrating the informal sector into waste management systems. The results have been disseminated in working groups, at expert conferences, and in publications.


The basic aim of the project was to bring together the public sector and both the formal and informal private sectors. It supported the development of national and local waste management plans which take into account the role played by informal workers. The respective authorities or municipalities responsible are thus able to involve the informal sector in the collection and sorting of waste.

The project also provided backing for informal workers’ self-organisation in cooperatives or as small businesses, supporting their efforts to register officially and to pursue technical or management training. This means the authorities gain clear points of contact, and the cooperatives can secure a better position for themselves on the recycling market. The identification of new activities in sorting, composting or manufacturing new products from waste has also helped improve income opportunities for workers who previously only collected waste and sold it on.

In relation to training, know-how transfer, networking and marketing strategies, GIZ promoted cooperation both nationally and internationally with representatives of the private sector, thereby enabling informal recyclers to build new business relationships.

The project also developed information materials and conducted studies to improve the transparency of decision-making processes that affect the integration of the informal sector. One study, for example, investigated the economic impact on a local community of involving waste collectors, which is an important factor for decision-makers in municipalities.

Results achieved so far
The advisory project conducted studies and devised guides and methodological approaches for the analysis of the services actually performed by informal workers, and to incorporate them into the official waste management system. It implemented pilot measures in Brazil, Mozambique, Chile, Costa Rica, India and the Philippines in order to test and refine strategies for integrating informal waste collectors.

Mozambique: organisation and integration of informal waste collectors

GIZ supported the registration and training of informal waste collectors in the greater Maputo area to enable them to carry out their work more efficiently and achieve higher standards of quality. The municipal authority placed them under contract as service providers for waste collection in the poorer parts of the city. Half of the poorer districts are now covered by these small businesses, giving an additional 500,000 people access to waste disposal services. In all, some 250 jobs were created in the new small-scale enterprises. GIZ also set up a centre for sorting and pre-processing of recyclable materials. The recycling centre sells high-value recycled plastics to the local recycling industry and is no longer dependent on external financial support. The employees enjoy a significantly higher income and better working conditions than before.

India: supporting informal recyclers of electronic wastes

India has a very large informal electrical and electronics waste recycling sector. The people working there use inappropriate recycling techniques that severely jeopardise their health and cause major environmental harm. Working together with the GIZ programme ‘Advisory services in environmental management’ in Karnataka, the project produced a study on informal recycling in Delhi and Bangalore. Informal recyclers received training on the risks of their activities and appropriate recycling techniques. Subsequently, many small-scale recyclers of electronic waste teamed together and have been able to register with the authorities. When it needs to deal with hazardous substances, their new company now works with an experienced recycler in the formal sector. The newly registered enterprise has been able to establish itself on the market and provide better working conditions for its employees.