Federico Parra: Recognizing Informal Recyclers: A New Paradigm for Waste Management — the Case of Bogotá

A crowd holding cardbord signs with a grey-haired man in a red jacket in the foreground, holding a sign which reads
Protestors in Colombia. The sign translates to "Recycling without Recicladores is Trash." photo / provided
Four women wearing bright yellow jumpsuits stand around a heap of recycling.
Informal recyclers. photo / provided
An aerial view of a crowd of people marching with large blue banners.
Marchers supporting the waste pickers movement in Colombia. photo / provided
A person pulls a cart loaded with obsolete technology in front of a brick building
Recycling obsolete technology in Colombia. photo / provided
Protestors in Colombia. The sign translates to "Recycling without Recicladores is Trash." photo / provided Informal recyclers. photo / provided Marchers supporting the waste pickers movement in Colombia. photo / provided Recycling obsolete technology in Colombia. photo / provided

Russell Van Nest Black Lecture

Federico Parra has worked with waste pickers since 1997. He is an urban anthropologist/ethnographer and holds a master's in social anthropology and a Ph.D. in political studies and international relations from the National University of Colombia. Parra has undertaken several studies of urban recyclers as well as critical analyses of public policy related to waste management and social inclusion.

Parra's work has contributed to the understanding of the socioeconomic context of recyclers and the impact of public waste management policy on recyclers in the city of Bogotá. Previously, as a public official in the Special Administrative Unit of Public Services attached to the former mayor of Bogotá, he coordinated development of the Inclusion Plan of Recyclers. He is a member of the Research Group on Collective and Environmental Rights, and the Research Group on Public Policy and Public Management, both at the Faculty of Law, Political, and Social Sciences of the National University of Colombia.

Since 2012, Parra has been the Latin-American coordinator of the waste-pickers program of the international nongovernmental organization Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).

Abstract:

For more than two decades, the work of waste pickers in Colombia was systematically pursued or restricted by public policies on waste management, given that the prevailing model privileged the activities of collection, transport, and burial of waste in the hands of private companies.

Recyclers organized into the Association of Recyclers of Bogotá to develop a series of strategies, including the demand for rights and their impact on regulatory frameworks. After more than 20 years of struggle, today they have achieved more than seven pronouncements of the Constitutional Court in favor of their work — pronouncements that make it mandatory in Colombia to recognize and integrate waste pickers in the public waste management service and remunerate them for their recycling service.

This presentation provides a narrative policy analysis regarding the impact on public policy conducted by the organized waste-picker population, who, since the 1990s, defend their right to remain and grow in their work. The consequent paradigm shift has Colombia passing from a scheme of "collection, transportation, and burial of waste" (almost exclusively in the hands of private enterprises), to a scheme that prioritizes recycling and recognition and remuneration of the waste pickers as providers of the public service of recycling.

Cosponsored by Cornell Law School, Cornell Waste Management Institute, and the Latin American Studies Program.