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Project end: 
Anne Scheinberg

Engaging waste pickers in Eastern Europe and the Balkans

WASTE assisted WIEGO (Workers in the Informal Economy, Globalizing, Organising, a UK-registered charity) in organizing waste pickers in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

What we do

In 2009, WIEGO (Workers in the Informal Economy, Globalizing, Organising, a UK-registered charity) received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to support the organising of waste pickers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. With the seed money, handed to WASTE, the attention is also turned towards organising waste pickers in Europe. Waste pickers in Europe are an explosively politically charged issue, especially since most of them are Roma, but also because their existence challenges "our" vision of the EU as modern, regulated, organised, and rich.

Working on waste pickers in Europe gives us, as WASTE, an opportunity to bring our skills and experience in low- and middle-income countries to the primarily middle-income countries in South Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

How we do it

During this project WASTE is planning to contact and consult with (largely Roma) waste pickers in seven EU-acceding countries: Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and Serbia, and also engage at a somewhat lower level with countries in the region already in the EU, where there is a considerable amount of informal recycling and re-use: Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Hungary, and Italy.

One major goal is to adapt and implement the Slum- and Shack-dwellers international "enumeration" methodology so that waste pickers can count and report their own numbers. This is a powerful tool, developed by Sheela Patel and SPARC in Indi. It is widely used in many countries for poor people to empower themselves and have real numbers and facts to talk to local authorities, donors, national ministries, etc. Information on this methodology can be found on the SDI website,

The adaptation is necessary because the SDI method focuses on living situations, but for waste picking it is benchmarking the livelihood activities which can provide leverage for recognition and integration. WASTE will be adapting the concepts of enumeration to work out easy methods for people with a low educational level to benchmark the tonnes of recyclables that pass through their hands. This builds upon the GIZ Informal Sector Study we did in 2006-2007 (published 2010), where we built process flow/materials balance analyses for six cities.

Benchmarking tonnes is a first step to valuating and monetising the positive externalities that informal recyclers create for their host cities.