Including Informal Waste Pickers in Waste Reduction Mission

January 10, 2024
Connect Clean Roma Group

The Connect Clean Roma Group environmental cooperative engages informal waste pickers in an organised recycling system. Their idea was recognised as one of the best innovative solutions to accelerate the green transition, which is why the European Union supported it within the ‘EU for the Green Agenda in Serbia’ initiative.

The role of informal waste pickers was recognised in the recycling industry long ago. The Connect Clean Roma Group environmental cooperative has a goal to improve their position and include them in an organised recycling system. Its members take old cables and produce copper and aluminium granules, which are in high demand.

This cooperative, established by informal pickers, currently works with more than 30 subcontractors in waste picking.

"Our cooperative provides better prices for raw materials to waste pickers. The fact that informal waste pickers supply the Serbian recycling industry with more than 87 percent of its raw materials points to their crucial role in this process. Our goal is to advocate for and influence the adoption of a legal framework to enable the inclusion of informal waste pickers into the overall legal business system," founder of the Connect Clean Roma Group environmental co-op Kilino Stojkov says.

Connect Clean Roma Group

Pickers collect cables for recycling from various sources. These include waste cables from construction sites, electronic waste, and older or damaged cables from industry or households. The co-op also does business with companies engaged in stripping old installations to source additional recycling materials.

After acquisition, cables are sorted according to their type and quality in order to assess the share of metal in their composition, a significant factor in the overall price. Following this stage, waste cables are thoroughly cleaned of any mortar, concrete, insulation, etc. and then sorted according to desired specifications, considering there are several basic types of granules as end products.

"Once they are sorted, the cables are fed into a shredder, after which they are passed through a magnetic strip to separate the metal from other materials. Following this, they are sent into a granulator where they are ground, only to move to a vibration separator to separate the metals from other materials, since the copper and aluminium that are mostly present in these cables can be recycled and used to produce new cables or other metal products. In addition, cable recycling results in other materials such as plastic, rubber, and other insulation components," Stojkov explains.

The co-op rented a recycling machine before. Now, owing to European Union support, they bought a machine, so the capacity in their facility rose to 1500 kg/h of input mixed waste materials. They intend to start recycling small domestic appliances at the co-op by late September.

Connect Clean Roma Group

"We believe we will have the capacity to process more than 15 tonnes of small domestic appliances monthly. As far as I am aware, currently in Serbia only two companies engage in this type of recycling, which is why we believe we will significantly contribute to sustainable waste management and curbing its negative impact on the environment,"  Connect Clean Roma Group explains.

On top of producing highly sought-after copper and aluminium granules, Connect Clean Roma Group also takes on social initiatives with a view to fostering policymaking in the fields of circular economy and climate change. Currently, they are the only representatives of the Western Balkans in the global climate change advisory committee within UNDP and Youth4Climate.

"In our advocacy efforts, we actively fight against cable burning, which is a major issue in Serbia. This practice has multiple negative impacts, bringing about a number of deaths. Our cable recycling aims to diminish this issue and improve the overall situation," Stojkov says, with an addendum that the co-op plans to open waste-picker-led recycling centres in major cities throughout the country.

The new Challenge for Innovative Solutions for the Green Transition was announced in February this year and will remain open until the end of 2026, with the goal of supporting innovative solutions in all five areas of the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans.

The ‘EU for Green Agenda in Serbia’ project, technically and financially supported by the European Union and implemented – in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental Protection – by UNDP, in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden and the European Investment Bank (EIB), with additional funding provided by Governments of Sweden, Switzerland, and Serbia.