Step forward for waste pickers in Turkey

A workshop “Understanding the Role of Waste Pickers and their Cooperatives in Waste Management and Recycling”, organized by the ILO and the Ministry of Customs and Trade was held in Ankara, Turkey, on 20-21 December.

Actualité | 21 décembre 2016
Participants at the ILO Waste Pickers Workshop, held in Ankara, Turkey, 20-21 December, 2016.
December 20-21 Turkish waste pickers and central and local government officials had the opportunity to sit down and discuss their unique needs and how to better streamline and modernize the solid waste management business.

They attended the workshop on “Understanding the Role of Waste Pickers and their Cooperatives in Waste Management and Recycling”, organized by the ILO and the Ministry of Customs and Trade in Ankara.

Arif Sami Seymenoğlu, from the General Directorate of Cooperatives at the Ministry of Customs and Trade of Turkey, and Numan Özcan, the Director of the ILO Office for Turkey, opened the workshop. Among the sessions were experiences of waste pickers from Argentina and France.

Local and ministry level Turkish government officials also discussed the legal and institutional responses for Turkish waste pickers and relationships between municipalities and waste pickers.

Moreover, the workshop included a session on organizing waste pickers in Turkey with participants from the Turkish Waste Pickers Association, The Recycling Workers Association and the Ak Dunya Recycling Cooperative.

Among the key points emerging from the workshop was the need for a better understanding of who the waste pickers are, including their numbers and demographics, which are currently not well known.

The workshop started with a key theme of the two day session: As Turkey is transitioning into a modern integrated waste management system, is there a role for waste pickers to play and if so, what should it be? Soon all stakeholders agreed, that indeed, there is a role for waste pickers but not under current arrangements.

The answer is not straightforward because there are many pieces in the puzzle, including individuals, strategies, legislation and regulation, and institutions, among others. As Vildan Gültekin from the Ankara Keçiören Municipality said: “It’s a puzzle that needs at least eight to ten pieces to be put in place to complete the picture.”

The idea of collective entrepreneurship, such as cooperatives, emerged as a concrete solution for integrating waste pickers into the Turkish modern waste management chain, as demonstrated by international experiences from Colombia, Brazil and Italy, among others.

A repeated theme in the workshop was that solid waste management legislation must include provisions on waste pickers’ picking and sorting cooperatives. Another message was a strong concern about keeping children out of this business and in school.

Clearly, education on the cooperative business model is needed for waste pickers’ organizations to begin to effectively organize. “Our Directorate is ready to initiate a cooperative education programme” said Arif Sami Seymenoğlu from the General Directorate of Cooperatives. The municipalities emphasised their readiness to work with cooperatives of waste pickers, as long as the upcoming solid waste management regulation allows it.

“This meeting was a useful initial step in what should be an ongoing multi-stakeholder dialogue on how to secure a sustainable future for waste pickers,” said Numan Özcan, Director of the ILO Office for Turkey.