Recyclers in Manila: a fragile and exposed community

In certain regions of the world, dismantling used electrical and electronic equipment is a source of income for the most destitute. They extract high-added-value metals from them to sell at the best price. Often to the detriment of their health and the environment. We look back at an exemplary partnership between Médecins du Monde and the Veolia foundation.
Published in the dossier of November 2017

Quote from Françoise Weber

Former manager of Triade Electronique, currently head of “extended producer responsibility” channels within Veolia’s Waste Solutions business line in France, sponsor in partnership with MDM


“When the team from the Foundation came to me regarding a sanitary issue in the Philippines and when I found out that this partnership included skills sharing in addition to the financial aspect, I immediately agreed. We are experts in treating waste electrical and electronic equipment and the project tackled a subject that is often neglected: recycling toxic solid waste in developing countries. Veolia’s technical contribution allowed this innovative and pertinent pilot program to come to fruition. We sent two volunteers with complementary profiles into the field: Rémi Bouvier, Technical Manager, and Eric Wascheul, for a more sector-based approach. The Médecins du Monde team and this expert duo carried out civic-minded and socially responsible work on the ground. Transferring our skills within the framework of a long-term development aid mission only enriches our experience. And this benefits the whole company!

Untreated waste electrical and electronic equipment releases chemical substances that are harmful to health. They infiltrate into the soil and contaminate the water that is found nearby. For this reason, the treatment of this waste is regulated* in many countries worldwide. However, in reality, the exponential growth in its volume, especially in South-East Asia, greatly exceeds the current treatment capacities of the countries in this geographical area. Part of this waste is therefore handled by the informal sector, representing a source of income for the most destitute. In 2012, Médecins du Monde (MDM) launched a pilot program in Manila on behalf of this particularly exposed urban community.

Barangays and recyclers

During the program’s exploratory phase, Médecins du Monde identified 700 recyclers, i.e. over one hundred families spread over four barangays (districts) of Manila. One year after the program’s launch, a first association of informal workers was created. Four years later, thanks to MDM, three other associations have been formed, one in each barangay.

“By uniting communities, our long-term aim was to allow this population group to take itself in hand, educate itself about waste treatment, and know how to work in complete safety, so as both to live and make a living from it more decently,” explains Guillaume Fauvel, the association manager for the mission and head of Médecins du Monde’s “Health and Environment” group (Read the interview).

From the outset, the program has taken into account both the sanitary and environmental dimensions: “One cannot be separated from the other,” he highlights, “which wasn’t self-evident when it came to finding new partners. MDM’s primary objective is more to provide sanitary and medical humanitarian aid, rather than to handle the highly technical aspects of recycling waste that can impact the environment. Once the debate had been settled and the project approved by our internal bodies, we were able to look for experienced partners in the area of waste treatment. We felt duty-bound to have a global program in order to find lasting solutions,” states Guillaume Fauvel.

The Veolia foundation and MDM: a complementary partnership


“The final assessment mission carried out on the ground in November 2016 convinced us to continue our partnership with MDM on wider issues. So, in July 2017, three volunteers from the Group’s areas of expertise (water, wastewater, waste, air) accompanied me to Manila for an exploratory mission concerning new environmental issues, especially air pollution in the barangays.”

The Veolia foundation, which is recognized the world over, was therefore called on following this first exploratory phase. In addition to financial support, Médecins du Monde was looking for the provision of expertise in recycling electrical and electronic waste (WEEE). By relying on the know-how of its subsidiary Triade Electronique, which specializes in recycling and recovering this waste (see boxed text), the Foundation’s expert volunteers then analyzed the recyclers’ working conditions before identifying the risks to which they are exposed.

Françoise Weber, the project sponsor at Veolia, states: “Informal recyclers are subject to two types of risks: mechanical risks due to cuts and projecting metal, and risks of intoxication linked to metals, whether directly or indirectly, when these metals spread into the environment or into the water that the dismantlers and their families use.”

For three years, the Veolia foundation has been training MDM’s community workers in the risks associated with the dismantlers’ activity, offering technical solutions to reduce the workers’ exposure and funding personal protective equipment for community associations. The frequency of the missions and the follow-up provided by the Foundation have made it possible to check that the dismantlers have successfully taken on board the lessons and skills.

The pilot program to reduce the sanitary and environmental risks came to an end in January 2017. For Guillaume Fauvel, one of the original objectives — namely the community’s ability to organize itself — has been achieved: “The dismantlers that we have supported, who are today organized into community associations, have become credible representatives interacting with the local authorities. This is an extraordinary personal development that they have been able to achieve in just a few years.”

* Electrical and electronic waste (WEEE) is considered to be hazardous waste. The Philippines signed and ratified the Basel Convention on transboundary movements of hazardous wastes. Presidential Decree (PD) 1152 and Republic Act (RA) 6969 form the legal framework for managing this waste in the Philippines. More recently, the Clean Air Act (Act No. 8749) and the Philippine Ecological Solid Waste Management Act No. 9003 (ban on burning cables) more severely restrict this activity.



- Cell phones in circulation119.21 119,21 million
(Source Philippine Dairy Inquirer, Avril 2017, Trash talk : old gadgets toxic as waste, Kirstine Ange Sabillo)

- Volume of electronic waste : 127,000 metric tons
(source United Nations University, Global e-waste report, 2013)

- Waste treatment capacity :
14 waste treatment plants are operational (Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities, TSDF). 2 of them are able to treat WEEE.
(Source Boris Martin, « Dismantlers of Manilla : health as the engine of change », Humanitaire (en ligne), 38 / 2014, mis en ligne le 19 septembre 2014. URL : http/

- Médecins du Monde :
Supporting Recyclers (2012 - January 2017). Identification and training of 766 dismantlers Training of 50 health agents (including 1 doctor and 3 nurses) 508 training module sessions covering the International Electrotechnical Commission’s standards.