Recyclers’ World Union Holds First Elective Congress in Argentina

In a historic move, the International Alliance of Recyclers (AIR) will hold its inaugural elective congress in Buenos Aires from May 1-5, uniting waste workers from 34 countries to strengthen their global network and advocate for their rights.

This May, Buenos Aires will host a landmark environmental advocacy and labor rights event—the first elective congress of the International Alliance of Recyclers (AIR). Scheduled between May 1st and 5th, this congress is pivotal for over 460,000 recyclers represented by AIR across 34 countries, demonstrating the growing solidarity and organizational maturity within the informal waste sector.

Empowering Recyclers: The Rise of AIR

Founded from the roots of the Latin American Network of Recyclers in 2005 and evolving through establishing the Global Alliance of Recyclers in 2009, AIR formalized its structure by adopting a constitution in October 2022. This upcoming congress in Buenos Aires symbolizes the culmination of years of grassroots organizing and sets the stage for the next phase of international advocacy and policy influence for recyclers.

Recyclers, often working on the margins of urban economies, play a crucial role in waste management and recycling processes. They collect, sort, and sell recyclable materials—from paper and plastic to metal and glass—operating in a sector that straddles the line between informal and semi-formal economies. Many workers have transitioned from traditional waste picking to roles emphasizing environmental stewardship, community health, and gender equality programs.

The congress’s agenda is as diverse as its participants. The event will kick off on May 1st with a march commemorating International Workers’ Day, followed by the inauguration of the congress. On May 2nd, elections will be held to choose the leaders who will steer AIR through 2024. The following days will be packed with discussions on constitutional amendments, strategy resolutions, and public presentations by the newly elected AIR authorities. Additionally, on May 4th, delegates will have the opportunity to visit local cooperatives run by cartoneros—Argentina’s community of recyclers who have been instrumental in transforming the recycling landscape in Buenos Aires.

Global Solidarity Among Recyclers

The significance of this congress extends beyond organizational logistics; it embodies a critical platform for exchange and solidarity among recyclers from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. With delegates speaking over 15 languages from regions as varied as Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and North America, the event is a testament to the universal challenges and aspirations shared by recyclers globally.

Recyclers have long battled for recognition and rights in Latin America, where the movement has deep roots. The formation of AIR is a response to the need for a cohesive voice against the everyday challenges of precarious labor conditions, lack of social security, and frequent marginalization within the urban economic framework. By coming together, these workers aim to transform their collective plight into a powerful narrative of empowerment and environmental responsibility.

The issues on the table are pressing. In cities across the developing world, rapid urbanization and the absence of formal waste management systems have often left a vacuum that recyclers fill. Yet, despite their critical role in environmental sustainability, they remain undervalued and vulnerable. The congress will address these systemic challenges, focusing on improving working conditions, securing economic rights, and elevating the status of recyclers within national and international policy arenas.

Moreover, this gathering in Buenos Aires will spotlight the innovative practices of Latin American recyclers, who have been pioneers in integrating recycling within urban sanitation frameworks. For instance, the cooperative visits planned during the congress will showcase successful models of recycler integration into municipal waste management systems, providing valuable insights that could be replicated in other parts of the world.

A Movement Towards Sustainability

As the International Alliance of Recyclers grows, its impact stretches beyond the immediate community of waste workers. The alliance champions an environmental cause that affects all of society, advocating for sustainable practices that reduce waste and conserve resources. This congress is not just a meeting; it is a movement towards a more inclusive and sustainable future where the rights and contributions of every worker are recognized and respected.

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As May approaches, environmentalists, labor rights activists, and policy makers around the world will be watching Buenos Aires. The outcomes of this first elective congress of the AIR could set new precedents for how recyclers are integrated into the global dialogue on waste management and sustainability. This event promises to be a crucial step forward in the fight for dignity, rights, and recognition for recyclers everywhere.

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