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19 July 2021

Gregoria Cruz does not collect the garbage, she recycles. Today, many women, just like Gregoria, have abandoned the dumps in Arequipa, Peru, to become promoters of a recycling culture and thus show that there are also opportunities for sustainable development in waste.

A few meters from a pig farm, there is a huge mountain of garbage that emits a stench so intense that gets blown away way beyond El Cebollar, one of the dumps that still exist in Arequipa. For more than 15 years, Gregoria’s life evolved between everything that the city discarded and that others recovered in order to live.

Today, Gregoria works as a formal recycler in Recicla Vida, one of the associations strengthened by the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (2005-2018) in Peru. And it is not just a politically correct definition. It was from this experience of UNDP, UNEP, UN Volunteers, the Ministry of the Environment and the Provincial Municipality of Arequipa that her work, and that of other female recyclers, has changed completely.

Now Gregoria is an agent of change. With the association, she spends some hours per day knocking on the doors of houses and businesses committed to recycling, she wears a blue uniform and handles separated waste, without food or other organic waste. She spends the rest of the day doing crafts with plastic bottles, cartons and papers collected.

Gregoria’s dream, after buying her own truck, is to be able to dedicate herself completely to giving waste a second life.

For the first time, Peru has assumed a National Solid Waste Plan with a social perspective. More than a plan for proper waste management, it is an important advance for an inclusive solid waste management that recognizes the work of male and female recyclers.

The article originally appeared as “From Development Born from Waste” in PNUD Peru Medio Ambiente (30 June 2017). Photo by Sally Jabiel/PNUD (2019).


The series Stories of Change 2021 was prepared by UNDP–UNEP Poverty-Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals through the generous financial support of the Governments of Austria, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and the European Union.