The economic and environmental dangers of ocean plastic pollution require immediate global interventions that address mismanaged plastic waste at its source: on land. Most ocean plastic pollution comes from developing countries—notably coastal countries with rapidly urbanizing populations—which tend to have weak solid waste management systems and lack formal recycling. While growing awareness of waste’s economic value and the benefits of resource efficiency has led to increased municipal and private investment in solid waste management (SWM) and recycling, the informal sector, where women are present in the greatest numbers, continues to fill critical gaps in urban service delivery.
Women and the challenges they face in SWM and recycling lack visibility, largely due to the chronic absence of both sector-wide and sex-disaggregated data. The lack of a uniform occupational coding that distinguishes individuals working in various positions in waste and recycling as a distinct labor category exacerbates this problem. This absence of data undermines the ability of governments, donors, and other stakeholders to measure women’s contributions to waste management and recycling, track development outcomes, and benchmark change. Though the visibility of women’s involvement is limited, and data is lacking, women work formally and informally in the sector as recyclers, waste pickers, sorters, intermediaries, business owners, and employees of municipal waste service providers.
Women’s Economic Empowerment and Equality in Waste Management and Recycling
Latin America and the Caribbean Landscape
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have some of the fastest-growing cities in the world – with accompanying rapidly increasing rates of waste generation. Poor waste management systems coupled with expansive coastlines and extensive internal waterways that carry unmanaged waste to the ocean pose a grave threat to surrounding marine environments and related tourism. In Peru, for example, the per capita generation of waste at the local level has increased by 40 percent over the last 10 year. This increase in production is problematic given the region’s incipient solid waste management (SWM) and recycling systems and limited public awareness of the importance of recycling and proper waste disposal.
At the national level within LAC, a growing awareness exists about the benefits of resource efficiency and the importance of solid waste management and recycling, especially in relation to ocean plastics pollution and the threat to LAC’s blue economy. All 33 LAC ministries of environment committed to combatting ocean plastic pollution and improving recycling efforts. A 2018 report developed to guide the design of possible policies and programs for SWM and recycling, however, only mentioned women and gender in just one textbox that focused on the informal sector, exacerbating gaps in knowledge and recognition of women in the sector.
Learn More about USAID’s Work on Gender and Urban Services HERE.