Informal Recycling Sector in Southeast Asia
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
Informal sector workers in the Southeast Asia region contributes significantly to waste management and resource efficiency by collecting, sorting, trading and in some cases, processing waste materials. They are a huge important player for sustainable development by complementing the social sustainability efforts of others. However, they are usually not recognized or given the support they need to operate efficiently. The key to developing a robust recycling industry is to understand and tap on the informal sector.
The information by Joshua Tan is both an appreciation for their work and a insight into their activities. Joshua had the opportunity to work with some of the best companies in their respective fields; GA Circular for their push to drive circular economies in Southeast Asia and now ICIS as a trusted market intelligence provider. As an analyst, he is committed to piecing and providing comprehensive insights and analysis for plastics recycling in Asia Pacific.
The formal recycling sector
The formal sector consists of private and public waste management companies. It also consists of waste management infrastructures as shown. While they are the backbone of waste management (and to a certain extent, recycling) in Europe and the Americas, the formal sector in Asia Pacific region works closely with the informal waste collectors.
The informal recycling sector
The informal sector is slightly more complicated than the formal sector. They are often referred to as the 'unorganized sector'. Materials often passes through a few hands before they end up in the local recycling facility or gets exported to another country.
A lot of inter-selling happens between stakeholders.
They usually segregate recycling waste immediately which results in lower rate of contamination as compared to street and landfill waste
Street Material Picker
The quality of material tends to be of moderate quality due to contamination from liquid, dirt etc
Landfill Material Picker
They primarily operate after forming their own communities over time and materials could either be 'new' or 'old' depending on layer of waste
Usually have high material turnover rates
Often equipped with compressing tools for space efficiency and transportation
Plastic wastes are processed with flakers, extruders, and pelletizers
While the informal sector and their activities are contributing to plastics circularity, it is worth noting that they are not driven by the need to protect the environment.
Rather, for most of them, collecting and selling our waste materials is the only way they can make a living for themselves, regardless of how dangerous and generally unsafe working conditions are.
These unsung heroes should be applauded for their contributions to the global plastic waste issue and they certainly deserve more than they have today.