Chiefs of Waste: GEO—DESIGN JUNK at Dutch Design Week

Waste-pickers perform between 50 and 100 percent of waste collection in most cities in developing countries, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). This informal way of waste management fills the gap where official systems are failing, and provides a livelihood for millions of people.

There are an estimated 15 million waste pickers currently operating around the world. Traditionally seen as tokens of the informal economy and often stigmatised, over the past ten years they have begun to organise themselves, seeking recognition, protection and workers’ rights. However, there are downsides to becoming a more regulated industry.

In collaboration with our Reach partners Studio José de la O and Quicksand, STBY conducted a global investigation that delves into the changing worlds of waste pickers in Mexico City and Bangalore. Together we uncovered the networks, actors and structures that span the blurry lines between formal and informal systems. Using objects to represent complex organisations and relationships, the project gathers together a selection of artefacts used by waste pickers as well as a series of stories that accompany them.

As gateways to a deeper understanding of wider systems, the harvested artefacts were then combined to create portraits of previously elusive organisational work. In doing so, the exhibit seeks to illuminate the real stories of waste pickers and their struggle to be accepted as important actors in the waste economy. Presented in a commercial space – the shop Sissy Boy situated across Design Academy Eindhoven,  where products that are made across the globe are sold, the project seeks to provoke a wider assessment of the relationship between production, consumption and waste.


Design Research, Mexico City: Studio José de la O (José de la O, Andrea Michael De la Peña)

Design Research, Bangalore: Quicksand (Babitha George, Pollyanna Moss, Vinodh Kumar)

Design Research Support: STBY (Bas Raijmakers, Geke van Dijk, Megan Anderson, Femke Kocken, Nina Stegeman)

Photography: Studio Pim Top

Graphic Design Support: DUO44 (Michèle Degen & Julia Schäfer)