JTA Attends the First Congress of International Alliance of Waste Pickers 

JTA Attends the First Congress of International Alliance of Waste Pickers 

April 2024: the First Congress of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers (IAWP) and IAWP marching in Buenos Aires on May Day or International Workers’ Day. 

In early May, Executive Director José Bravo and Strategy Advisor Ananda Lee Tan participated as observers at the first Congress of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers (IAWP) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where waste and recycling workers from over 32 countries elected their first international executive body and council, with balanced representation from all five continents. The Congress also passed over a dozen resolutions, including resolutions to act in solidarity of all workers seeking collective recognition, in accordance with ILO guidelines, and ones to advance just transition goals, strategies, guardrails and guidelines at all international policy arenas where frontline community and worker knowledge, experience, needs and priorities are required to guide laws, actions and investments related to waste and recycling.

Frontline workers such as waste pickers are integral for environmental and economic justice, as we need their collective power and thought leadership to effectively shift away from plastics and other toxic materials, and towards frontline climate justice solutions. In addition to over hundred delegates representing waste workers from all five continents, JTA observed the Congress alongside a couple dozen other allied trade unions, informal sector workers alliances and NGOs such as the International Labor Organization, TUCA (the Latin American Trade Union Federation), Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Domestic Workers International.

JTA has been facilitating workshops and meetings for IAWP members around the world since early 2023, focused on just transition strategies to tackle plastics and waste. We have also built relations with the IAWP through UN global plastics treaty (GPT) talks, collaborating on an international mechanism to end plastic pollution. We provided critical inputs to the IAWP’s Just Transition policy paper for the GPT and at the fourth International Negotiating Committee (INC-4) of the treaty process, we worked with the IAWP, various EJ groups and the Indigenous Caucus of the NGO coalition to co-organize a side meeting build a shared GPT strategy to center the voices and priorities of those first and most harmed by the plastics-petrochemical industrial complex. 

During the IAWP congress, José and Ananda participated in tours of various recycling facilities run by waste worker cooperatives. They learned about a highly successful housing project built by a former waste worker cooperative that had started a construction workers’ cooperative in order to provide housing, electrical, water and sewage systems for hundreds of thousands of poor residents of Buenos Aires. While these worker co-op endeavors have clearly done more to address the social housing needs of the poor than Argentina’s governments, they are presently facing serious obstacles posed by the new Libertarian regime of President Javier Milei, who is working to dismantle Argentina’s stellar public education and healthcare systems.

On May Day, Jose and Ananda joined our IAWP comrades and hundreds of thousands of workers on the streets of Buenos Aires for a massive International Workers’ Day march, learning about some of the historic alliances forged between these (largely) Peronist movements of informal sector workers, workers cooperatives and trade union federations across Argentina. With the drastic austerity measures and public funding cuts imposed by the “Milei” regime, these working class movements have had to band together with student movements and other allies to push back against government cutbacks in recent months.

JTA left this Congress feeling inspired by the visionary leadership and transformative strategies of this global movement that is organizing for an inclusive democracy in the ruins of the colonial extractive economy. We look forward to continuing to engage deeply and intentionally with the IAWP around the global plastics treaty process and supporting waste workers worldwide. 


Ananda Lee Tan and José Bravo at the first Congress of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers (IAWP).



IAWP’s newly elected executive and council celebrate with other Congress delegates.