500 million tons of paper and plastic waste is generated worldwide each year, but only 10% is recycled. Such a poor recycling rate contributes to overflowing landfills and continued extraction of limited natural resources, unnecessarily taxing the environment. Developing countries in particular face enormous challenges in solid waste management, and they are also in need of low-cost, labor-intensive income opportunities for millions of poor, unskilled workers.
This situation drives nearly 15 million people in developing countries to sort through garbage in hazardous conditions to collect and sell recyclable items to earn a living. Known as waste pickers, their occupation engenders severe economic and health risks and causes them to face social exclusion in which they are viewed as annoyances and criminals rather than legitimate workers. Waste pickers are also exploited by middlemen, often receiving as little as 6% of the amount industry pays for recyclables, resulting in abysmally low earnings (a few dollars per day on average) that prevents them from obtaining adequate housing, safety gear, and education for their children.
Meanwhile, billions of people lack access to adequate housing, and available building materials are often expensive, poor-quality, or unsustainable.
The confluence of massive waste generation, rapidly depleting natural resources, widespread poverty and exploitation of informal waste collectors, and growing demand for affordable yet durable building materials presents the opportunity for an integrated solution that bridges planet and prosperity.