Fiji becomes first Pacific nation to recognize 'waste pickers' as 'collection pillars of recycling'

Fiji recently became the first nation in the Pacific to formally recognize "waste pickers" as the invisible environmental champions that they are and shine a positive light on the profession. According to ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), the workers are often subjected to slurs and slander despite working in unsafe conditions and sorting garbage with no protective gear. "When my children go to school, the students laugh and point at them," shared Tikitoro, who has been providing for her family for the past couple of years by sorting through rubbish for objects that can be resold or taken to recycling facilities. "Sometimes when my co-workers go to the health center they are told by the nurse or a doctor to go and wash themselves properly first."
Fiji acknowledged the positive environmental benefit of these workers at a council event on July 20 in Lautoka, the country's second-largest city, reports Fiji Sun. At the event, 30 women engaged in informal waste picking were officially registered, given access to bank accounts and provided with protective clothing, footwear, masks and gloves. The Lautoka City Council, Pacific Recycling Foundation, Waste Recyclers Fiji and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also coined a new name to replace the informal "waste pickers" title: Collection Pillars of Recycling.

Pacific Recycling Foundation Founder Amitesh Deo revealed that the idea of adopting an official name arose during a week-long workshop organized in partnership with IUCN and the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre. "The workshop was about human rights, gender, legal literacy, financial literacy and one of the key findings in that workshop was the stigma attached to waste picking and one of the contributors to the stigma was the name 'informal waste pickers,'" he said. Paul Katirewa, the Climate Change Co-ordinator at IUCN, shared that most of those engaged in the assortment and collection of mixed waste are exposed to very toxic waste and conditions.
"So, women especially, you are challenged because if you are injured or unwell, you will not be able to attend to your families as well," he said. "That's why it's really important for you to be safe in the working environment. So, providing you access to protective gear, footwear, masks, gloves, is going to benefit you and that trickle down to your families as well." Asenaca Loli, a Collection Pillars of Recycling member, shared that 2022 is the sixth year that she worked at the Vunato landfill site. "We started with cane cutting. I used to watch these ladies who were waste pickers so I wrote to the council requesting to be a member," she said. The mother-of-five revealed that she spends around eight hours in the landfill site every day, sorting through cans, aluminum materials and copper electrical wires which she can clean and take to the waste recyclers to sell.

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