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PRESS RELEASEJune 14, 2024

Unseen Green Jobs, a Study on Informal Waste Workers

The important and often unrecognized work of people who collect and recycle waste dumped in landfill sites or from city streets in the Lao PDR is documented in a report issued by the World Bank today. Unseen Green Jobs, a Study on Informal Waste Workers, details the role of waste pickers in building a green economy, and recommends action be taken to protect them against the dangers they face and to improve their legal status.

The study assesses the working and livelihood conditions and waste recycling practices of informal waste workers in Vientiane Capital, supporting Lao government efforts to develop a comprehensive information base and understanding of their situations. These workers play a critical role in recycling efforts, reducing the amount of material in landfills and helping to extend the lifetime of these sites. This forms an important social service and also promotes a circular economy — when materials and products are kept in circulation for as long possible to reduce waste and environmental impacts.

Informal workers such as waste pickers often exist outside the formal protection of the law”, said Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for the Lao PDR. “This means they miss out on safety net schemes like health insurance, and also lack support systems for health and safety. This study lists measures that would greatly improve their situation, for example by providing occupational health training and protective equipment such as gloves and boots”.

Some of these workers tour Vientiane’s streets, picking up recyclable waste from households and commercial premises, while others live and work at the Km 32 landfill outside the city. In addition, formally employed waste collectors, truck drivers and scrap yards link waste pickers with the recycling market. Their role is becoming increasingly important in the context of rising levels of solid waste and limited collection services — only around 31% of households have access to waste collection services in Vientiane and recycling rates remain low.

Waste workers face constant risk of injury from handling sharp objects and contaminated materials, and from accidents. The fact that they have limited bargaining power and control over the price and market settings of their services increases their vulnerability to poverty, health, social, and economic risks. The children of waste workers are also vulnerable, with many working as waste pickers themselves. Many miss out on school, receiving little education.

Action is needed to give more recognition and protection to those providing this vital function and improve their working conditions. This should include measures to provide training and equipment, improve working conditions, and ensure access to welfare, health care, and safety protection.

The study, conducted with the Jobs Group and support from the Jobs Umbrella Multi-Donor Trust Fund, forms part of World Bank support to Laos’ National Green Growth Strategy to 2030. Green growth is a resilient, inclusive, and sustainable economic strategy that can boost employment — raising incomes and reducing poverty — while reducing the costs of economic growth on human health and the natural environment.



Aiden Glendinning
+856 21 266278


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