Solid waste generation is reaching a tipping point. Current forms of waste management are not taking care of the complex and wicked challenges related to discard and waste. This is why it is so important to engage with community and jointly address these challenges. Mapping Waste Governance, a community-based research project, partners with waste picker organizations (WPOs) to identify, examine and document grassroots social innovations and challenges in waste governance. The project works in selected metropolitan regions (Buenos Aires, Dar-es-Salam, Kisumu, Nicaragua and São Paulo).
Valuable knowledges of waste pickers, key actors in resource recovery, are usually left out in policy making. The research is committed to changing this paradigm by applying a community-based, interdisciplinary lens to capture the multiplicity of narratives and cross-sector perspectives of household waste management. A reconceptualization of waste is needed, making waste and waste workers visible, recognizing the recyclers and the resources embedded in waste as well as promoting the potential for re-circulation and social inclusion. Inclusive waste governance recognizes waste pickers and innovative grassroots approaches, replacing the narrow, top down approach from the past, addressing poverty reduction, community building and transition towards increased sustainability.
A reconceptualization of waste is needed, making waste and waste workers visible, recognizing the recyclers and the resources embedded in waste as well as promoting the potential for re-circulation and social inclusion.
Over the past four years the research team and community partners in Mapping Waste Governance have mapped key processes, actors and links (or gaps) involved in waste governance in the five case study cities. The research team uncovered possible barriers and challenges in household waste management, as well as the conditions that generate innovation. We have discovered a variety of grassroots innovations and institutionalized forms of resource recovery that deserve to be mobilized for exchange and to become upscaled.
Our project invited 21 WPOs and 7 waste picker networks to participate in arts-based workshops (photovoice and participatory video) to describe any innovation in waste governance they might know of. The participants responded to detailed questionnaires, voiced their experiences during in-depth interviews and through the photos and videos they produced. Impactful social innovations identified by these actors were analysed, interpreted and mobilized in accessible formats (published reports, policy briefs, video documentaries, journal articles, book chapters, conference presentations) to reshape waste governance with community input.
Different high level actions and changes have been identified. This ranges from:
producing localized guidelines for inclusive waste governance in Managua (Nicaragua);
redesigning the waste management plan with focus on social inclusion and environmental sustainability in Ribeirão Pires (Brazil);
disseminating grassroots innovation by WPOs in all project regions as the outcome of video documenting;
creating visibility of waste pickers as grassroots promotors of the circular economy (Buenos Aires, Argentina); and
supporting the creation of a network of waste pickers in Kisumu (Kenya) and Dar es Salam (Tanzania), recognized by the local government as grassroots voice in waste management.
These powerful outcomes, build on grassroots knowledge and community-based research and contribute to improving waste governance and advancing the global agenda of waste pickers for recognition and service remuneration.
It is still a long way for systemic and lasting change to happen in waste governance with an integrated social and environmental view. Waste pickers continue to struggle with lack of recognition as voiced by José Batista, leader at the cooperative Cidade Limpa: “The local government does not believe in the cooperative. This is our biggest problem”. In addition, Rubens from the cooperative CORESO posits “[t]he lack of visibility is a big challenge. We suffer from the prejudices they have against waste pickers”. Similarly, Aparecida Dias from Cooperglicério points out that “The mayor does not support us”.
We have learned that for the most effective use of research outcomes, engaging with diverse key stakeholders (government, industry business associations) is as important as community engagement in itself. For research to make meaningful contributions and translate into policy making, it is crucial for the research team to engage with knowledge users, to negotiate with them on how to translate and transfer research results, filling the knowledge gaps (see Photo 1).
We have learned that for the most effective use of research outcomes, engaging with diverse key stakeholders (government, industry business associations) is as important as community engagement in itself.
Ionara, leader of the WPO Avemare in Santana de Parnaiba (Brazil), highlights the empowering effects of building dialogue with government. After her return from a workshop in Kisumu she revealed: “It was really cool, government officials were very curious, asking many questions, wanting to know how it went… [T]here was more credit given to the cooperative, it gave even more value, added more to the work of the cooperative, without a doubt” (see photo 2).
We learned through our project that continuous engagement and funding is necessary in order to more effectively reach out and step up research outcomes, to provoke needed policy and social change.
For more information on the Mapping Waste Governance Project:
Website: Community Based Research Laboratory