Inclusion of Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) in the Transition to Sustainable Waste Management

Inclusion of Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) in the Transition to Sustainable Waste Management

June 21, 2022

Following the revision of the Law on Environmental Protection (LEP) in 2020, new provisions anchoring waste management to the process of the circular economy are being implemented such as plastic waste reduction, waste sorting obligations, and the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy for packaging which will come into effect in 2024. The EPR will fundamentally affect the waste collection, sorting and recycling system in Viet Nam, which is partially undertaken by the informal sector.

In this context, it is critical to reconsider the integration of collectors into the waste management system. As key players, they are actively contributing to decreasing the amount of waste which winds up in the environment, and by doing so, reducing the financial burden for municipalities. Nevertheless, they are not officially recognized by public authorities, an issue which has been identified as a major bottleneck for the Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) in accessing social services. This informal workforce, most of which are women, is vulnerable to waste price fluctuations, land occupation issues, health injuries and suffers from social stigma.

Drawings on the lessons learned from pilot projects and findings from the workshop in Quy Nhon, this brief offers recommendations for provincial and central policymakers, to strengthen the livelihoods of informal waste workers and support their inclusion in evolving waste management systems.

Firstly, there is a need to recognize the roles, and include the voices, of informal waste workers in the upcoming waste management policies. These pilot projects uncovered the critical roles of informal waste workers and call for better recognition of IWWs as a workforce that can contribute to the EPR system and more broadly, to the transition toward a circular economy.

Secondly, the whole supporting ecosystem shall join hands in improving the working conditions of the collectors to accelerate efficiency. IWWs need financial facilities, adequate working space, access to professional equipment supplies, support to register or to join legal entities, and access to social benefits.

Lastly, the integration of IWWs in the waste management system is a complex and multi-faceted process requiring a coordinated approach. Therefore, it necessitates the involvement of the public sector at the national and the local levels in linking with the IWW and ensuring their inclusion, the private sector to facilitate their access to waste, the academic community to generate and disseminate specific knowledge, and the engagement of NGO/CSOs/development partners in delivering capacity building, advocacy messages, and supporting (re)structuration.