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Treat all waste as contaminated, global body warns

By 30/03/2020News

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, an international organisation for waste sector employees, has told workers to assume that any recyclable or waste materials handled may be contaminated by the coronavirus.

The claim was made in a newsletter providing ideas for how waste workers across the world can protect themselves and demand safer working conditions from employers, residents and government officials.

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers was founded in 2008

However, the advice published by the Global Alliance is intended for waste sector employees across the globe, rather than those specifically in the UK.

It reads: “Our advice is that if waste pickers who are not providing essential mixed waste collection services can afford to skip work and stay at home, then they should.

“Where waste collection must continue, all efforts must be made to restrict face-to-face contact between people, to securely wrap potentially contaminated waste, and for waste pickers to demand authorities to address worker safety and economic security.”


In addition to guidance published by other sources, the Global Alliance says workers should avoid exposure to fumes or dust from waste materials, especially when waste is being dumped or compacted, and try to work in well-ventilated places only.

“All efforts must be made to restrict face-to-face contact between people”

Global Alliance of Waste Pickers

It advises that workers with long hair should tie their hair back to avoid contaminating their face.

And, it says materials should not be sorted meticulously. Workers should avoid touching and sorting materials such as tissues or masks that indicate illness, containers for medications, those that appear to be marked as hazardous or those that cannot be seen.


The Global Alliance has also published advice as to expectations of workers’ rights around the world during the pandemic.

A microscopic view of the coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract (picture: Shuttesrstock)

It says workers should ask their cooperative, association or employer to systematise coronavirus prevention measures at their workplace, post updated information about COVID-19 and how their city is responding, and guarantee compensation for workers who become sick or who are forced to remain at home.

Residents should be expected to separate waste in the way the worker’s organisation deems safest, help workers with outdoor access to soap and water for handwashing, and thank their local waste pickers for the services they are providing, according to the Global Alliance.

The Global Alliance says workers should ask leaders and government officials to fund and provide access to protective gear, ensure household waste collections continue throughout the crisis, and acknowledge waste pickers as front-line workers deserving special support and recognition.

Global Alliance

Founded after the first World Conference of Waste Pickers held in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2008, the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers describes itself as “a networking process, supported by WIEGO, among thousands of waste picker organizations with groups in more than 28 countries covering mainly Latin America, Asia and Africa.”

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Source: Waste Managment