Being a Waste Picker During COVID-19
Note: this article is part of Personal stories, a series of articles portraying individuals to learn more about the waste challenges. The stories are spanning wide and aren’t necessarily associated with Empower projects or activities.
Written by Forbi Perise, summer intern at Empower
For more than 2 years now, Kah Jackson has been collecting waste to support himself. He is 40 years old and depends on this activity to take care of himself and meet his daily needs. Being a waste picker takes a lot of effort and courage in his community. Collecting waste is one of the least appreciated jobs that one could do in Jackson’s community, this is what he could find to do. Most often waste pickers are marginalized and considered to have mental health issues.
He says: “ Jobs are scarce, collecting waste is the only work I can find”.
Jackson was seen on the streets of Buea Cameroon while he was collecting waste and quickly caught the eye of Empower’s summer Intern Forbi. Jackson lives in a semi-urban town in Cameroon and found out a lot of
plastics are thrown away. He saw it as an opportunity to make money; He sells plastic bottles to local traders who reuse plastic bottles.
“Market traders buy all the plastics I collect”- Kah Jackson
Jackson is single and lives alone in Mutengene Cameroon. All the money he makes from collecting waste is used to feed himself, because to him, the money he gets is too small to support a family. He makes less than $5 a day on average. Though he suffers from underlying health issues, he walks for more than 3km sometimes collecting waste from trash bins, back yards and along the streets. He walks around with large bags collecting waste, until the bags are filled with plastic bottles he doesn’t stop. Due to COVID-19, Jackson stayed home for several days and weeks for fear of the virus.
“Since COVID-19 came things have been difficult” — he says.
Many waste pickers have seen their activity impacted by COVID-19, they can’t earn their daily income like they normally would. Jackson is just one of many waste pickers who need help at this time.
Though Jackson collects plastic, he is still getting to learn about the devastating impact of plastic to the environment or the ocean. He is unaware that his activity is important in stopping ocean plastic. Most waste pickers like Jackson see an opportunity where others see a problem.
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the waste pickers are prevented from work and daily income, having massive consequences for a vulnerable group. Empower is working to address this issue by giving verified local organisations the needed funding tool to provide urgent financial support to waste pickers during lockdowns, and at the same time connect this to future cleanup activity.
Article was written by Empower’s summer intern, Forbi Perise, a 23yrs old Cameroonian. Forbi is an environmental education & oceans activist and community volunteer. He has organized several clean ups over last year and continues in his efforts to engage young people in cleaning up their community. Forbi is helping us to connect with relevant organisations in Cameroon.