Waste Pickers are invisible heroes and enablers of the circular economy
The Circular Economy rationale is promoted as a means to move from a global plastic waste dilemma to a plastics economy that is aligned with the principles of Sustainable Development. However, any such effort will have to account for the socio-economic settings in low- and middle-income countries which are the main entry points of mismanaged plastic wastes into the environment.
Since recycling activities in these economies are characterized by low-quality outputs and a great degree of informality – i.e. a lack of regulation & rule of law, formal employment, and commonly accessible data – there is an urgent need to find models for partnering with the informal recycling sector in an effective, scalable, and sustainable manner.
The basic idea behind the business model of Mr. Green Africa – a recycling company situated in Nairobi, Kenya – is to abandon the traditional exploitative and non-transparent value chain of informal recycling that is typically based on a network of multiple middle-men, brokers, and intermediate traders. This system is replaced by a direct fair-trade-like relation between the individual waste picker and the recycling company, the latter one acting as the immediate link to the formal economy. Visibility, social status, and higher income levels for waste pickers are core elements of this model.