Waste hero blog main pic

Photo: Yunus .

In recent months, a partnership called the the Waste Hero Alliance involving youth activists, NGOs, social businesses and informal waste workers across Asia has been promoting a shared vision of an inclusive future that also generates zero waste.  

Their recently launched report Youth Visions for the inclusion and empowerment of informal workers in Asian circular cities captures the findings of a series of workshops which aimed to explore the challenges faced by informal workers and come up with policy responses.

Read three key takeaways from the report.

Empowered and dignified workers are key to an inclusive circular economy

Despite growing momentum toward circular transitions, a focus on social equity and inclusivity is often lacking. For instance, solutions that involve modernization of waste management practices may not integrate informal waste workers, who are able to maximize recycling outcomes with minimal infrastructure in resource-scarce contexts.

”I feel very nervous about my work because if I get hurt I lose money and no basic health insurance from the government because my work is not recognized.” – Informal waste worker, Bangladesh

The Waste Hero Alliance believes including waste workers today, empowers them as dignified workers tomorrow. This starts with visibility and recognition of all waste workers as essential service providers. It also means ensuring access to education, upskilling and training opportunities, and access to affordable and quality health services and social security.

“We want an avenue for our voices to be heard, we feel like outcasts and we want to be a part of society.” – Peerathorn Seniwong, Informal waste worker, Thailand

The power of youth

In the fight for climate and social justice, it is often young people who have risen to the challenge by speaking up in solidarity and on behalf of future generations.

The Waste Hero Alliance has provided the opportunity for youth to engage with waste workers in an empathetic way and to develop their skills and knowledge in policy influencing.

Through a series of “Policy Bootcamps”, young people were able to develop policy canvasses which responded to the challenges raised by informal waste workers. These ideas were then pitched at the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) High Level Side Event for Social Business and Youth on the 23 September 2022 which provided a real opportunity to influence policy on a global scale.

Beyond the policy pitches, youth ambassadors are committed to supporting inclusive circular transitions through advocacy, dialogue, educational activities and fundraising.

This event has transformed my pessimistic views of the world that is “beyond repair” to a mindset that nothing is ever too late, with the collective power of the youth and the people.” – Lanlana (Fay) Sukparangsee, Youth Waste Hero Ambassador, Thailand

Youth and informal workers

Photo: Yunus .

Building platforms for collaboration can ensure policies for circular transitions are just

The Waste Hero Alliance has also provided an opportunity for regional network building between NGOs and social businesses to incubate new ideas. With key policy frameworks such as the 2021 Framework for Circular Economy for the ASEAN Economic Community and the 2019 Bangkok 3R Declaration Towards Prevention of Plastic Waste Pollution through 3R and Circular Economy already in place, building partnerships to advocate for the rights of informal workers and the rights of future generations can ensure that circular transitions are just.

See more from the Social Fiction Thinkathon in this video clip

This event was undertaken in collaboration with SEI’s Strategic Collaborative Fund II and Yunus Thailand in partnership with SEAMEO, Indorama Ventures, Probha Aurora, Zero Waste Laos, Zero Baht Plus Shop, and Waste Platform Philippines.