Version 3.2

How waste pickers are being sidelined in Global South cities: A network analysis

Waste pickers are essential actors of the waste management of Global South cities: often the only agents separating recyclables materials, they foster urban circularity. However, as extensively documented in the Environmental Justice Atlas (, they are increasingly facing environmental injustices and marginalisation. In this paper, we aim to understand why waste is conflictive in Global South metropolises, and why waste pickers are often involved in these conflicts. Our hypothesis is that socio-metabolic reconfigurations involving waste are occurring in Global South cities, driven by changes in both the materiality of the urban metabolism and in its political economy. These reconfigurations cause the exclusion of waste pickers from access to waste, triggering ecological distribution conflicts. Using the EJAtlas, we have documented 70 conflicts in the Global South involving waste pickers. Methodologically, we implemented a qualitative coding process of the cases and used it as the basis for a network analysis. Results show an increase in waste quantity in Global South cities, that is addressed through neoliberal strategies such as privatisation and incineration projects. This indicates a change in the value of waste, which is increasingly becoming an opportunity for capital accumulation. This causes environmental degradation and the marginalisation of waste pickers, who are deprived of their livelihood. The relationship between environmental justice and degrowth is increasingly investigated, and socio-metabolic reconfigurations are a key element of both scholarships. Observing the waste picking sector may contribute to this debate: waste pickers’ practices could be prefigurative of a degrowth society, and understanding the changes needed to improve their living and working conditions could contribute to its realisation.


Day: 2023-08-30
Start time: 12:45
Duration: 00:15
Room: ZV-8-9
Type: Paper Presentation
Theme: Feminist, decolonial, anti-racist and anti-ableist ecologies


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