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Leader of Kenyan waste pickers: ‘We are the backbone of recycling’

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As a boy John Chweya was one of many children who scrambled over the mountain of stinking waste at Kachok dump, using a magnet that he dangled over the rubbish to pull out metal scraps and earn a living.

Over the years since, global companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé have increased plastic production by millions of metric tonnes, and plastic bottles have replaced metal as the source of income for those who pick through the garbage in Kisumu, the third-largest city in Kenya.

Today in the multimillion-pound plastic industry, it is the people who live and work on rubbish mountains in Africa and across the world who are the invisible backbone of plastic recycling and enable multinational companies to meet their targets to reduce its use.

According to the United Nations environmental assembly, 60% of the plastic recycled across the world is collected by waste pickers like Chweya. But they are ghost workers; unrecognised, unprotected and discriminated against. With no ability to access healthcare, they succumb to infections, lung diseases and cancer from living amid toxic…

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