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Centre for Building Sustainable Value

Melanie Valencia

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Waste picking and reclaiming as social provisioning: constructing a socially restorative and regenerative circular economy



There is growing pressure to transition to a new economic model from ecological and feminist economics perspectives. Implementing a circular economy in Latin America can be an opportunity to include recyclers and other informal workers in the economy and close the gender gap. The sensemaking of becoming a female waste reclaimer leader and how recyclers can fit in this model is explored through in-depth interviews with ten leaders from Colombia and Ecuador. The modifying effect of becoming part of an association is rooted in social provisioning communities formed to exchange material, training and create social safety nets. Through their testimonies, recyclers' demands to be recognized, access waste and be remunerated for their service, are shown to be equivalent to the recognition of care work. A framework that combines the 9Rs of the circular economy with the demands for recyclers' dignity, care-work counting, and environmental justice is presented to promote a socially restorative and regenerative circular economy.


Melanie Valencia is an Andean, originally from Ambato, Ecuador. She is currently pursuing her interdisciplinary PhD in circular economy from both economics and engineering perspectives. Her research focuses on the social determinants of the circular economy, particularly on how the informal recycling sector can be included in this new model in Latin America. She has been working at the intersection of environmental engineering, climate change and social innovation. Most of her work has been related to sanitation and improving waste management in both technical and social aspects with projects in Ghana and Ecuador. She was named MIT Innovator Under 35 in 2016 for her work in CarboCycle, a biotech startup transforming organic waste into a palm oil substitute. She was also one of Project Drawdown’s research fellow to estimate the impact of scaling existing solutions to mitigate climate change. She has been organizer and speaker at multiple events, including Hacking Medicine MIT and Zero Waste Latin America.


Melanie Valencia

Melanie Valencia