Circular Economy through the lens of Inclusive Recycling: a global North-global South dialogue

SESSION E7 / 20 November 2020 / 14:45 - 16:00

Circular Economy through the lens of Inclusive Recycling: a global North-global South dialogue

Chair / Presidente: Jutta Gutberlet (CA), Sebastian Carenzo (AR)


This workshop will bring different perspectives from academics and practitioners on the circular economy, with practical examples from the global South and the global North. Waste picker leaders have prepared short video clips, to be translated and shared during the conference. This will allow waste pickers from Argentina, Brazil and Canada to communicate their visions and perspectives of the Circular Economy. The concept of Circular Economy (CE) proposes a critical rethinking of the linear model of extraction-production-consumption-disposal that is predominant under the current local and global techno-productive regimes. Thus, it focuses on minimizing the impacts of human activities on nature, by reducing the extraction of the natural resource base, as well as by extending the life cycle of already transformed material stocks. By considering design as a key driver, the CE approach on waste management is not limited to increasing the recyclability of materials, as it targets waste prevention by optimizing the consumption of raw inputs. Thus, the design of a zero-waste productive process is considered one of its most compelling challenges. However, we must take into account that currently up to 2% of world population makes a living from collecting and sorting materials from waste. Specially in global South countries, informal recycling is responsible for diverting between 10-20% of discarded materials from household and industrial waste streams avoiding those materials to end up in final disposition facilities. In this sense, waste picker organizations together with scholars and social movements have been working towards an inclusive recycling perspective, to be formalized and included into the official waste management systems in middle and large urban agglomerations. From this perspective, Circular Economy is basically considered a way to enhance the recyclability of waste, without necessarily conceiving a zero-waste future. The unique attention the Circular Economy is currently getting in the public agenda, is seen by waste picker organizations as an opportunity to achieving the social and economic recognition they deserve, but which is still denied for most of them. By bringing an Inclusive Recycling perspective into the Circular Economy discussion, we are emphasizing that the concept needs to be adapted to local contexts, actors and demands. This raises some uncomfortable questions about the Circular Economy framework which still need to be addressed in both worlds -the global South and the global North- as for example, its role in job creation (or destruction), how to approach informality and contexts of weak normative frameworks, or how to deal with distributive conflicts in both, socio-economic and ecological terms.