Silvio Ruíz Grisales
This profile was prepared when Silvio Ruíz Grisales was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997.
The New Idea
Silvio is working to legitimize and professionalize the work of recyclers so that they come to be recognized and respected as a productive component of society. This informal sector contributes to the economy and protection of the environment, while at the same time providing 250,000 people in Colombia alone with the means to earn a living by collecting and sorting waste products which can be re-used, saving costs to businesses, conserving the environment, and contributing to cleaner cities. Yet society does not respect their work, and favors replacing them with private garbage collectors and expensive waste-management technologies. By organizing recyclers at the local and national level, Silvio is creating a strong group able to pressure the government to legalize and regulate their work. A national law granting legalization of their work will protect the rights of the recyclers and offer safeguards like minimum wage, health benefits, and garbage collection contracts, as well as access to credit, housing, education and social security -- benefits which are currently not available to those who work in the informal sector. As public services are increasingly privatized, Silvio is demonstrating that organized recyclers can compete with private companies contracted to manage garbage, by recycling and disposing of garbage in a more cost-effective and labor-intensive way. Silvio's proposal for solid waste management focuses on individual recyclers and the use of human labor as part of the solution for waste management, instead of relying on expensive technologies. Projects in Brazil have promoted improvement on the business side of the recyclers' work, yet they do not incorporate the same organization, nor the work towards legalizing and regulating the recycling sector, that Silvio has promoted in Colombia. Silvio's model and his national association of recyclers was recognized by the United Nations as one of the 25 best and most innovative environmental practices in the world.