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National Association of Colombian "Recicladores"

Keywords: Social Exclusion/Integration
Economic Development


Colombia has approximately 50,000 scavenger families ("recicladores") that earn their livelihood in collecting solid waste. A 1986 programme was launched to organize the "recicladores" in local associations (Asociacion Nacional de Recicladores-ANR) by a local NGO. The purpose was to help "recicladores" improve their working conditions through enhancing their transport and quality control systems of selected waste. The programme also addresses social needs such as child education, access to the social security system (medical assistance, pensions, etc) and issues related to women. Since 1986, ANR has benefitted 25,000 scavenger families in fifteen Colombian Municipalities. It has implemented facilities for storing the waste and has developed solid waste management systems within the communities. The process of organization, provision of equipment and use of appropriate technologies has resulted in a thirty percent increase in the revenue of the "recicladores." Social security has been made available and 'houses' have been provided in the main cities for the education of children, training or re-training of adults and as meeting centres.


The number of scavengers in most regions of the world is steadily increasing, specially in the main urban centers. They create a typical informal sector which survives economically through scavenging on the street or in the dumping sites.
The scavengers' problem is well known in many cities of the world. It lies in their usual "atomisation" accompanied by the scavengers' status implicitly created and assumed by themselves. Comparative research and experiences have shown that the scavengers consider themselves as a sort of social category associated with "sub-human characteristics."

Part of the solution lies in the inability to recover their human identity as a person, and within the family and social group.

However, if many experts or decision makers have indicated the magnitude of this social issue, few solutions have been provided. This due to the complexity of the problem. It is first a family problem: the scavengers work as a family day and night (the children going with their parents during the night often sitting and sleeping within the cart covered and protected by "classified garbage"). Therefore, among their children the precariuos and familiar working conditions and the early experience of filth identified with family activity and status often lead to deviant behaviour and low - if any- levels of education.

It is secondly an individual problem affecting each family member since childhood and making them, particularly women and children, more vulnerable.
It is a social problem: such working conditions and status lead to poor self-perception and self-confidence, in addition to lack of social security and low education and cultural levels.

It is also an economic problem due to the limited possibilitie for an individual to collect sufficient daily garbage without provision of equipment, storage places, diversification of the cleaning market, information and access to credit to develop small enterprises for recycling activities.

Above all, organization is a requirement to negotiate with the formal sector, the municipallity and local institutions or services. Organization is also a pre-condition to develop a financially sustainable social security system to overcome their social vulnerability in this aspect.

The Colombian "Asociacion Nacional de Recicladores" (ANR).
Colombia has a population of around 50,000 families of garbage pickers commonly called "collectors of solid waste" and more recently "recicladores" (recycling people) and working in the main cities.

In 1986, a programme supported and developed by the "Fundacion Social" (an NGO managed by a group of 14 enterprises) was launched. The basic principales of this programme is the rehabilitation of the scavengers' activities through the organization and development of sustainable initiatives.

This programme organizes the "recicladores" in local associations, forms leaders, helps the "recicladores" to build or to get storage places, improves their working conditions through enhancement of their transportation means and quality control system. It also addresses social problems, such as child education, access to the social security system and the issues related to women.

The ANR actions have directly benefitted 25,000 families (about 125,000 people).

The majority of the ANR branches have built their storages in their respective cities and are developing an integral management program of solid waste with local communities. The process of organization, equipment provision and development of adequate technologies has resulted in approximately a 30% increase in scavengers' revenues.

A social system for scavengers and other marginated groups has been setup by the ANR through local financing. At present, any scavenger family member can benefit from this social security system and has access to hospital, health care and pension funds. With the increase of critical mass, the system is becoming progressively self-financed.

"Scavengers' Houses" have been opened in the main cities. They provide school for children, training for adults (particularly women) and are meeting centers for scavengers.

Presently, the ANR has initiated the construction of a new pilot plant for processing solid waste in the city of Manizales with the contribution of other partners from public and private local sectors. In fact, any investment for new technology is always self-financed by the ANR or its local branches which have to find partners who can cost-share the investment.
New models of community participation in waste disposal and recycling are developed.

A total of 15 of the main Colombian municipalities (Bogota, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Neiva, Ibagué, Pasto, Popayán, Buga, Armenia, Manizales, Pereira, Soledad, Sincelejo) have signed a formal contract with ANR and are planning their policy regarding waste disposal in concertation with the ANR local branches. In some cities the local branches of the ANR work on the bases of sub-contracts or in joint-venture with the private companies in charge of waste disposal.

A recent international meeting (Bogota, December 1994) has shown that the ANR is a spearhead model which could be replicated in countries particularly where the number of scavengers is high.


25,000 scavenger families directly beneffited (125,000 people)
30% increase in scavengers' revenues
15 major Colombian Municipalities involved


The ANR's sustainability is being supported by the growing number of local ANR branches throughout the major Colombian cities and due to their efforts in involveing other partners, both public and private, in joint-ventures. All parties commiting to both financial and management programs.


    Guillermo Torres Daza
    Calle 59 No. 10-60, Apartado Aereo 39274
    Santafe de Bogota
    (57-1) 211-4600, 217-4141, 211-5454


    Fundacion Social, Santaf de Bogota, Colombia
    Guilleromo Torres Daza, Director Area Re
    Calle 59 No. 10-60, Apartado Aereo 39274
    Santafe de Bogota
    (57-1) 211-4600, 217-4141, 211-5451


    Fundacion Social, Santafe de Bogota, Colombia
    Guillermo Torres Daza
    Calle 59 No. 10-60, Apartado Aereo 39274
    Santafe de Bogota
    (57-1) 211-4600, 217-4141, 211-5451

    "Asociacion Nacional de Recicladores" (ANR) in 15 Colombian municipalities
    Asociacion Nacional de Recicladores (ANR
    Santafe de Bogota

    Comite Nacional Preparatorio HABITAT II
    Carrera 13 No. 18-201 Piso 9
    Santafe de Bogota
    (57-1) 232-5085, 287-0973, 288-7851

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