Four key problems of the informal collectors
Key problem 1
Roma waste collectors are exposed directly to the waste containers as they select recyclables from street containers. This is a communal and sanitary problem.
Key problem 2
Family members and often children are forced to help the collectors and therefore any type of education and care for them is blown from a very young age.
Key problem 3
Roma informal collectors are illegal, without insurance, contribution and protection
Key problem 4
Exploitation of the labor of the collectors. Despite playing an important social role in protecting the environment, informal waste collectors in the country have been rejected by the entire community.
Most climate conversations focus on the trilogy of energy, transport and food. When waste is mentioned, it is usually referencing methane emissions from landfill sites and waste miles.
Waste is a complex challenge with poor data, but you don’t have to look far to see its obvious impacts. In lower-income countries across the world, a waste collection service is rare. Recycling industries exist but are often poorly connected and so fail to gain market penetration, and there are many competing priorities on the public purse.
People are generally unaware of the impacts of mismanaged solid waste, and so it remains low on people’s priorities compared to health, food security, clean water and education. It also means that when people burn waste they do so without understanding the risks. In particular, waste collectors dispose of waste without any protection – and are usually among the most vulnerable in society with underlying health risks.
Recycling in North Macedonia
North Macedonia can be considered a significant source of climate change emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, North Macedonia’s per capita emissions of CO2 in the year 2019 were 4.28 tonnes compared to the global average of 4.79 tonnes per person.
Despite some success stories, recycling remains at extremely low levels in North Macedonia. According to experts and observers, the country needs to quickly develop a waste management strategy.
Households collect all kinds of waste in one bin and then empty it into street containers. Then garbage is taken by municipal utilities trucks to a landfill, where it is stored on the ground. This is waste management in North Macedonia, with extremely low levels of waste selection and recycling.
Statistics confirm the dire situation: while the total amount of waste collected in the country has been constantly increasing, recycling is going the opposite way. In 2017 North Macedonia generated 787,000 tons of waste, of which only 0.6% was recycled. In 2018, waste increased to 855,000 tons, with a 0.5% recycling rate. In 2019, waste reached 916,000 tons, while the recycling capacity dropped to a mere 0.3%.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning argue that the current legal framework is appropriate and harmonised with European Union standards, but laws, strategies, and plans for waste management and environmental protection are poorly implemented at the municipality level.
Municipalities should first start working on waste selection: there is almost no sorting of waste in more than one bin, i.e. there should be one (yellow) for plastic packaging, glass, paper etc. and one for mixed, non-recyclable waste.
Digging deeper into the problem of waste and Roma collectors
Roughly 4,500 recycling collectors work in the grey market in North Macedonia, around 1,500 in Skopje alone, the overwhelming majority of them Roma. They pick recyclable rubbish from the streets and parks, and from the banks of the Vardar River winding through the capital city, mounds of bottles and cans often dotting its waterline.
The Roma, through their collecting, clean up the city and the environment, but they are not legal workers and they don’t have any type of insurance or support. They should not be seen as last-class citizens, but as people who work and contribute to the betterment of society.
Despite playing an important social role in protecting the environment, informal waste collectors in the country have been rejected by the entire community. Revenue from waste sorting constantly varies with the prices of waste materials on the stock exchange and the time of year, they work undeclared without pension and health insurance and are subject to blackmail by some waste buyers, while in order to earn a living, they include them in their work. and their minor children.