In the weeks and months leading up to the United Nations World Oceans Day, the collective consciousness on this planet has been turned away from our oceans. As a pandemic rages across the globe and a historic social justice movement engulfs the U.S. and much of the world, the oceans have been relegated to an afterthought.
Our oceans, vital to life on Earth, must still be in our hearts and minds. On UN World Oceans Day, we at SoulBuffalo and the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network are putting forth a call to action to help a particular group of people vital to protecting our oceans: the waste pickers.
Given the implications of COVID-19 and the sudden tanking of the oil market, the 15 million informal economy waste pickers around the world — the unsung heroes of our circular economy — are at risk. Waste pickers collect, sort, and recycle valuable materials that others throw away. They pull waste out of landfills, fields, and our oceans, and get them back into the economy. In some countries, the waste pickers are the only source of waste collection.
They are the gatekeepers between plastic waste and our oceans.
On the Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit in the middle of the Atlantic Garbage Patch last summer, five of the world’s leading Waste Picker organizations came together to form POW, the Plastic Pickers’ Operational Working Group. Multiple corporate members of the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network have funded this initiative, which includes Mr. Green Africa from Kenya, WIEGO a global NGO, Plastics for Change, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group from India, and First Mile (an initiative of Thread and WORK) from Haiti, Honduras and Taiwan. Meridian Institute, administers POW.
Over the last year, through POW, seed funding has been provided for living wage training, health care, infrastructure projects, and microfinancing loans for entrepreneurs.
It’s been incredible to get to know these organizations and their challenges in the last year. Things are critical right now for this informal sector. Here’s why:
The Secondary Plastics Market is as volatile as ever
Virgin plastic (made from fossil fuels) was already at an all-time low pre-COVID, due to the natural gas boom in the United States. Now, with the bottom falling out of the oil markets, the market for recycled plastics has plummeted. As of last week, with some materials, the cost of post-consumer recycled plastics (PCR) is 100% more than virgin plastic. Given these trying economic times, consumers and brands will be more price-sensitive and will buy more virgin plastic.
If there is little or no financial incentive for the waste pickers to pick up plastic, they will redirect their energy on metals and other materials that will help them feed their families.
The Coronavirus has locked down waste pickers
In countries like India, where waste pickers are entirely dependent on the recycled plastics markets, the lockdowns have been extremely rigid. For much of the last three months, they have been unable to collect. Many people in this line of work have to recover materials daily in order to make ends meet, which has been impossible during this time.
A Call to Action
The POW organizations have made clear to us the gravity of the situation. Waste pickers, who are already compromised by their pre-existing living conditions and marginalized mainly due to their lack of status, are among the least equipped to deal with the consequences of COVID-19. For the waste pickers to continue to be a dominant force both in the circular economy and as stewards for our oceans, they need our help now when they are most vulnerable.
The five POW organizations are listed on the Global Giving Platform to raise emergency funds for waste pickers impacted by Covid-19 to ward off further extreme hunger and disease. Funds raised will provide food, soap, water, protective equipment, masks, and essential health treatments.
Whether you represent a multinational organization, or you are an individual, the waste pickers desperately need our help on World Oceans Day.
You can click here to view the Global Giving page to help the Plastic Picker Operational Working (POW) Group member organizations.
(Dave Ford of the Oceans Plastics Leadership Network originally published this on Medium)***Global Giving is a global crowdfunding community connecting nonprofits, donors, and companies in nearly every country around the world. They help local nonprofits access the funding, tools, training, and support they need. They help donors make safe and secure U.S. tax-deductible donations to vetted locally-driven organizations around the world. (Globalgiving.org).
***Meridian Institute will assist POW Groups with the Global Giving effort and is positioned to wire funds expeditiously, as well as help with compliance, monitoring, and reporting requirements. In addition, it will help to build mutually beneficial relationships with organizations that represent waste pickers.