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Meet Some of the People Preventing Ocean Plastic

By March 1, 2024No Comments

Millions of people around the world make a living collecting, sorting, and selling materials that someone else has considered to be waste and thrown away. This informal army of first collectors and recycling specialists work to change their lives, clean their communities, and protect the planet.

In late 2023, Prevented Ocean Plastic™ supported a study into the lives and work of Ecuador’s first collectors. Despite the important role they play in Ecuador’s circular economy, little is known about this community. While research on collectors has been on the rise globally in the last decade, very few studies to date have focused specifically on the Ecuadorian environment.

A summary report of the study is available for download on our Thought Leadership page now and the full report will be published soon, but today, on International Waste Pickers Day, we focus on just three of the people surveyed currently making a living preventing ocean plastic where they live.

Meet MÓNICA SIMBAÑA, a family woman with ambition.

Monica began her collecting work out of need- she has two children and a family depending on the income that she brings in by sorting aluminium, paper and card, as well as plastic- but has been collecting for over 20 years and now dreams of expanding her business.

“The biggest benefit of being a grassroots collector is that I am my own boss”, Monica says.

Monica works every day of the week, walking up to 10km per day, pushing a handcart to increase the collection impact she can make.

Collectors were asked how long they have been involved in material collection. 33% had been doing this work between one to four years, but more than half had been collecting for more than 5 years.

Meet JHON EDISON LÓPEZ, a man on a mission.

Jhon represents the quarter of the first collectors surveyed that had travelled from Venezuela to earn a living in Ecuador.

He cites unpredictable weather and tough working conditions as the negatives of his work but recognises the financial incentive of picking up plastic and even hopes to open his own recycling centre one day.

Collectors were asked their average earning per kilogram across all the materials they collected. The data demonstrated that the most profitable recycled material is PET bottles. 

Meet THALIA COYAGO, a champion for the planet

25-year-old Thalia initially took up collection out of need and to support her family. But has since found new inspiration for her work.

Struck by the levels of waste and the contamination she saw while working, Thalia says one big benefit of being a first collector is she is now “taking care of the environment”.

She says that the biggest thing that other people can do to help her efforts is to clean and properly sort their waste into different material types before disposing of it.

Thalia says, if she had one wish, it would be to have the support of her mother for many more years.

Without the hard work of Thalia, Jhon, Monica, and the millions more first collectors operating around the world, recycling rates would plummet and the resulting waste would clog up homes, cities, and the environment.

The people that collect discarded plastic form a vital part of the circular economy and the foundation of the Prevented Ocean Plastic™ Programme.

This International Waste Pickers Day and beyond, Prevented Ocean Plastic™ is committed to the elevation of standards throughout the recycled plastics industry. Better understanding of the lives and work of the first collector community in Ecuador allows for a more precise tailoring of our programmes and policies there. We plan to expand and repeat this research everywhere we work to maximise efficiency within the recycled plastics supply chain, improve the socioeconomic circumstances of collectors, and ensure every bottle is counted and every person counts.

And what can you do to help? If you’re a business, bring Prevented Ocean Plastic™ into your supply chain. If you’re a thought leader, campaign for change and argue for awareness. And as a consumer, look for the Prevented Ocean Plastic™ logo when you shop. Choose recycled, create demand for responsibly sourced and high quality plastic, and make a better plastic choice.

Prevented Ocean Plastic™ is high quality, certified recycled plastic that has been collected from coastal areas at risk of ocean plastic pollution. Used by supermarkets and brands around the world, it meets regulatory health and safety standards, is traceable back to source and can be identified on-pack through its distinctive triangular logo. Prevented Ocean Plastic™ was an official nominee for the 2023 Earthshot Prize, and counts Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Booths Supermarket as key partners, along with major manufacturing partners such as Groupe Guillin, Spectra Packaging, and Berry Global for offerings across multiple product categories, including fish, poultry, soft fruits, pet food, personal care, and home cleaning.