Waste pickers, I salute thee.

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Today is Global Waste Picker Day and I want to express my love and admiration. Waste pickers play an incredibly important role in keeping cities clean, and contribute substantially to sustainability by recycling every last little (valuable) bit of someone else’s rubbish. They deserve to be celebrated.

When I lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where there is no formal recycling, I could put my recyclables in a plastic bag by the road, safe in the knowledge that an etchai (recycler/waste picker) would pick them up.

Unfortunately in Lilongwe, Malawi, where many people (including myself) live in gated communities or guarded compounds, recycling is not that easy, and I’m still to work out the best way to get rid of my tins, plastic, and wine bottles. (Beer bottles are re-used as Carlsberg – locally known as ‘Green’- is bottled here.) I most definitely miss the etchai.

The sad thing is that waste pickers are often discriminated against, as people who are doing a ‘dirty job’. The thing is, they are doing YOUR dirty job. And you, and I, should be thankful. These are people who are risking their lives on a daily basis (going through someone else’s rubbish is not good for your health), and we should respect that.

So I salute you waste pickers. And I think it’s high time your demands for recognition are heard – as very well articulated by the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers.

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