La Chureca is Managua’s principal landfill. Since 1971, 90% of the city's waste became discarded here without any regulation, leading to the accumulation of around four million square meters of garbage and severe environmental contamination. The discarded waste was accessible for everyone so that the "urban-poor" started to live from waste-picking until in 2009 a large-scale development project restricted access to the site and converted it into a modern sanitary landfill.  The project brought “the most modern landfill of Latin America” , according to the Spanish Development Agency (AECID), who stood behind the project, as well as infrastructural, environmental and socio-economic improvements in the Acahualinca neighborhood, promising a better life for the local community .
For a long time, the existence of La Chureca had been a two-faced one: On the one hand, discarded waste provided a source of income and sustenance for many people. While this first included marginalized groups displaced by the historical earthquake of 1972, more and more people came to live from waste in the 1980s and 1990s so that the dump became frequented by up to 2,000 waste pickers – many of whom also started to live in La Chureca.  These “churequeros”, as community members call themselves, had usually direct links to people who would buy recycled materials, such as metal or textiles. They also found most of what they needed for their families, such as construction material to build homes, kids toys, clothes, shoe soles, and food.  As Zapata and Zapata Campos (2015) further argue, the practice of waste picking in La Chureca contributed to the building of a collective identity, constituted an environmental contribution, and moreover led to the gradual discovery of waste as a resource; in the course of that, waste pickers developed tacit knowledge and competences of how to make use of recycled materials .
On the other hand, living and working conditions were hard, with health risks and environmental contamination dominating everyday life. These conditions also aggravated social problems.  The uncontrolled accumulation of waste led to the release of methane gas, the generation of bad smell and dust, and the pollution of the lake, affecting local water and food supply . For example, as of 2007, 30 percent of all children working and living in La Chureca were found to show intoxication with mercury, lead, and DDT from contact with waste and the consumption of fish from contaminated lake water. Also, occupational accidents were ubiquitous. As of 2009, La Chureca received 1,300 tons of waste per day and was frequented by about 1,600 waste pickers .
Between 2009 and 2013 the dumpsite was eventually sanitized and equipped with a recycling plant, as part of a US$ 45 million development project in the Acahualinca neighborhood – a joined venture between AECID and the municipal government, in cooperation with several NGOs and the Spanish engineering company Tragsa, and in the name of sustainable development. The toxic dumpsite area became sealed and homes for 258 families who formerly lived in the area were established.  The neighborhood received a school, a health and a daycare center, and green areas. Also, a number of projects to improve the social and economic development of the waste picker community were launched, partly with support from AECID. 
This modernization of La Chureca as part of a neighborhood transformation project initiated a process of formalization in Managua's waste management system, which led to enclosure of waste and had particularly strong implications for the waste picker community. As a response, churequeros started to organize and formed a union and cooperatives (e.g. Cooperativa La Chureca Guardabarranco, and Cooperativa de Mujeres Recicladoras de la Chureca ), which had notable impacts on the community's political and social recognition. Shortly after, Nicaragua's national waste picker movement RedNica was created, with the aim of giving a united voice to the country's 13,500 waste pickers. 
The increasing enclosure of waste triggered a series of protests. In 2008, protests were directed against the increasing reduction in recyclable waste volumes, as municipal waste workers had started to pick out valuable materials from the garbage trucks before arriving at the landfill, as a way to increase their salary. About 1,000 waste pickers held protests and blocked the entrance to the dumpsite, announcing that they will not let one single truck pass until recyclable material would reach them again. They moreover complained that truck drivers would not even stop anymore to let them pick out food leftovers. [8a] Waste pickers organized night shifts and collective meals throughout a 35-days blockade, ultimately forcing the waste operator to an agreement that would guarantee them access to all waste . In 2012 about 600 waste pickers and RedNica held protests against the municipal government and AECID. They demanded that waste picking at the landfill would be further allowed, that employed waste workers would finally stop picking out valuable materials before dumping municipal garbage at the landfill (as an agreement achieved in 2008 did not adhere), that the housing situation for affected community members would be clarified and that solutions for elderly waste pickers would be sought. [8b] All in all, waste pickers were not opposed to the development project, but clearly demanded inclusion in the formalized waste management model and the securing of their livelihoods .
In 2013, the recycling plant was inaugurated and handed over to the municipal waste operator Emtrides. That provided employment for 580 people (93% of them were former waste pickers), but the landfill became closed for everyone else.  About 245 waste pickers became violently evicted from the landfill; three became detained and the police also used tear gas. RedNica publicly denounced the rights abuses in the course of the forced eviction and pointed out that, contrary to previous promises, not all waste pickers were provided with alternative work opportunities and the enclosure thus had severe socio-economic consequences. 
For the community of Acahualinca, the project, overall, brought substantial infrastructural and environmental improvements. Those who became employed at the recycling plant now enjoy better working conditions and social security, and many of them were also provided with housing. Still, they now face higher costs for food purchases and household bills, while the salaries are only the same or even lower than what some of them used to make previously when picking waste at the dumpsite. 
For waste pickers not included in the formal system, the conditions, in turn, have often worsened. They often continue to pick waste informally in La Chureca – which is now considered illegal and has brought higher occupational risks and more repression. According to a 2017 study, a total of 535 people were still waste-picking informally – while the municipality of Managua claimed that there were none. In fact, after the inauguration of the recycling plant in 2013, many people started to enter the landfill area by climbing over the secured walls. They searched through the garbage that had already passed the sorting process in the recycling plant in order to find remaining materials of value (e.g. those that were not chosen for commercialization by the recycling plant operator). When caught, they regularly faced intimidation by private security. Hence, the informal sorting, cleaning, and classification of materials increasingly shifted to the nearby residential areas. Even employees of the plant reported picking waste to supplement their low salaries.  Some people also reported to have been laid off from the recycling plant without any reason and to have thus returned to pick waste informally .
In April 2017, about 300 informal waste pickers from La Chureca became violently expelled by the police, without any previous notice. Some reported having become beaten up, arrested and forbidden to return to the site, which then became secured with a four-meter deep trench, to prevent them from further removing recycled material.  This was followed by several street protests and mobilizations. Displaced waste pickers demanded access to the garbage bins, in order to make use of sorted out material and to collect food leftovers to eat. They also demanded dignified jobs and inclusion in the municipality’s recycling sector, as initially promised. Despite these protests and open letters sent to the municipality, no solution was provided in the following months. Former churequeros reported about hunger in their family, leaders of the protests about arbitrary police visits in their homes. 
The insufficient inclusion of waste pickers in the modernization and formalization process of Managua’s waste management thus seems to remain a crucial point of conflict in the case of La Chureca. Studies of the development project (Hartmann 2012, 2018; Zapata and Zapata Campos 2015) find that waste pickers were not adequately represented in the project planning between 2009 and 2013. Only a few waste pickers were selected to improve decision-making, but these mostly lived outside of La Chureca and did not represent the more marginalized parts of the community, and largely remained in the role of “passive policy transmitters” , which had almost no impact on the project design.  As Hartmann (2018) outlines, strikes initiated by individual waste pickers and the waste pickers union were not fully heard, but several NGOs helped to transfer their demands and needs to AECID . As the study further argues, the enclosure of waste – formerly serving as a commons for the “urban poor”  – has led to a reduction in income opportunities, which for waste pickers excluded from formal employment implied a continuation of their precarious situation and the facing of new forms of social marginalization – an aspect that had not been taken into account by the project planning .
Mobilization for waste pickers rights has been notably carried out by RedNica, which demands inclusive and equitable recycling policies and operates at several levels: in the organizing of informal waste pickers and the building of waste picker cooperatives; in the linking of these cooperatives to municipalities, civil society and the private sector; and in the promoting of products from recycled materials. In fact, the forming of cooperatives helps to reduce the power of intermediary traders, who currently receive up to 11 Cordobas for a kilo of recycled plastic at international markets (about US$ 30 cent), while at the other end of the recycling chain informal waste pickers are often only paid around 3 Cordobas (less than US$ 10 cent) for the same. As of 2015, Nicaragua exported recycled materials (metals, plastic, paper, ..) worth US$ 23 million.  Also international networks such as the Latin American waste pickers network (RedLacre), the Global Alliances of Waste Pickers (Globalrec) and WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment – Globalizing and Organizing), have called public attention to the case of La Chureca and supported waste picker struggles in Nicaragua .
In recent years, the Sandinista government has made some efforts to improve waste management and public cleanliness with the rationale of ensuring political stability and promoting economic development and tourism . A legislative attempt to strengthen waste pickers' rights, supported among others by RedNica, was generally approved in 2014 (the so-called “Ley Especial de Gestión Integral de Residuos y Desechos Sólidos Peligrosos y No Peligrosos”) but has since then remained pending in the National Assembly without further specification. Its implementation would formally recognize waste pickers as part of the recycling chain and require municipalities to adopt more inclusive policies. However, as it has still not resulted in any regulation, many municipalities remain reluctant to do so.  Waste collection in cities like Managua remains largely dependent on NGOs and international aid agencies, who provide substantial funds to the local government and various projects . Waste pickers have moreover sensed the repercussions of the country’s political crisis and ongoing street protests in 2018, which led to a collapse of waste collection in several cities and increasing difficulties for waste pickers to sell recycled material and to access landfills .
This text was notably informed by a 2018 monitoring report of WIEGO’s “Protecting the Human Rights of Recyclers in Latin America” project, which aims to improve the conditions of waste pickers by documenting working conditions from a human rights perspective in order to influence legal frameworks and, in addition, report human rights violations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.