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Mülldeponie in Indonesien

Waste picker Nani in Indonesia

Women's empowerment and environmental protection through our Womenpreneurs4Plastic project

Nani (48 years old) has taken half a day off. Together with her little six-year-old daughter Eca, she sits in the passenger seat of our project car and shows us the places of her daily work. Every time we leave the car, we are met by an unbearable stench and hundreds of flies buzz around us. We, the head of the Asia Department at Malteser International and a small group of staff members of the local partner organization YEU, are on our way to Central Sulawesi in Indonesia to visit the projects Malteser International is implementing together with YEU.

Nani is an informal waste picker. For more than 10 years, together with her husband and her 6 children, she has been searching the landfill for recyclable waste, especially plastic, which she sells to so-called "waste collectors" - middlemen who buy the plastic and then process it for profit.

Together with her husband, Nani earns about 2 million Indonesian rupiahs per month - the equivalent of about 133 euros. This means that the family of 8 is far below the subsistence level of 30 euros per person that applies in the Central Sulawesi region. She can only ensure the survival of her family because she also has a small kitchen garden with tomatoes, casava, spinach and moringa.

Nani's commitment to the rights and better living conditions of women waste pickers

She proudly tells us that her family - all of whom are involved - collects 40 bags of plastic waste in about 10 days. However, most of the time, middlemen pay unfair prices to the informal waste pickers and even often take advantage of their difficult situation. They offer the women high usurious loans through which they get into debt.

It was only a few months ago that she heard about the "Women Empowerment and Plastic Reduction" project that YEU is implementing, sponsored by Malteser International and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

“It was immediately clear to me that I wanted to be part of this project," she tells us. "I was elected head of the village of Ngatabaru in Sigi in Central Sulawesi by the women's group that was formed as part of the project, and now I represent the Womenpreneurs4Plastic women in this village." She is proud to be able to actively campaign for the rights and better living conditions for women waste pickers.

The hopes and goals pursued by the women in the "Womenpreneurs4Plastic" project are big, but achievable:

  • to get fair prices for the collected plastic through direct marketing of the collected plastic
  • to pay less interest on debt, through the creation of women's savings groups
  • to gain knowledge of plastic sorting, marketing and recycling
  • support by providing shredding machines and recycling machines.

Nani is very confident that this will succeed. She was surprised to discover that in recent years no one had shown any interest in or commitment to the welfare of the garbage collectors. Since the start of the project, however, a promising change has already begun to take place in this regard: Both the village administration and the district environmental authority have now declared their willingness to actively support the interests of the informal waste pickers.

Read more about our „Womenpreneurs4Plastic“ project.

Text by Cordula Wasser, Head of the Asia Department, June 2022

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