Waste pickers perform an important social function by sorting through the refuse and pulling out anything that can be reused. There are people all over the world participating in this activity as a way of earning a living, mostly in developing countries. Unfortunately, they earn very little for the important work that they do.
Two private companies try to change that situation by providing a much higher income to waste pickers. They recycle the waste into filament for 3D printers and sell it on the global market.
Protoprint is a Social Enterprise based in Pune, India that empowers the urban waste pickers of Pune. The waste plastic they collect is used to make 3D printer filament. The company markets the filament globally, providing consumers with a price competitive, ethically sourced, recycled alternative to virgin plastic. Another example is The Plastic Bank. In 2014, they set up their first project in Peru. With that experience they will start a new project in Haiti. Their aim is also to reduce poverty and recycle waste. Garbage pickers sell waste to the Plastic Bank, which makes filament with that for 3D printers. This project documents (with photography, video, text) the waste pickers who work for Protoprint and The Plastic Bank, as well as the waste pickers who don't work for these companies to show the difference.
Do the waste pickers really have a better life now? Can they earn enough with these recycling projects to lift themselves out of poverty? In the long run, will they be able to become more independant? Or will they be collecting garbage their whole lives? Do Protoprint and Plastic Bank risk to become companies only driven by profit? Are they really concerned with the wastepicker or is it about window dressing?
© Photo by Shishir Basant via Flickr Creative Commons.