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Waste pickers fight exclusion at Santiago's “Eco-Park Rafey”, Dominican Republic

Initially started as a socially inclusive development project, recycling at Rafey landfill became controversially privatized after 2010. Hundreds of waste pickers became violently displaced from the new eco-park and remain without perspective.


Rafey landfill, located in the Cienfuegos district of Dominican Republic's second-largest city Santiago de los Caballeros, receives up to 1,800 tons of waste per day [1][2]. Since the 1970s, the area of Rafey has served as the principal site of waste disposal of Santiago and provided impoverished families from the city with a subsistence source of livelihood. From 1991 onward, displaced people constructed homes in the Santa Lucía neighborhood (called “La Mosca”), collected food to sustain themselves and picked recyclable materials such as glass, metal, boards, plastic and other objects that could be reused or sold. [1] The number of waste pickers (pejoratively called “buzos”) significantly increased after the year 2000, when industrial workers who lost their jobs started to seek to make a living from recycling. In the following, up to 2,500 people engaged in waste picking at the site, until in 2008 some of them returned to other jobs. However, the Haiti earthquake in 2010 again brought the arrival of numerous displaced people to Cienfuegos and many of them temporarily started to live from waste-picking [1][3]. Work at the dumpsite took place under often dangerous conditions, with a high risk of accidents and health diseases. Rafey was also notably known for its high number of underage waste pickers, mostly stemming from the neighborhood. As it was found in 2009, children between six and ten years old were working up to twelve hours a day in Rafey. [4]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Waste pickers fight exclusion at Santiago's “Eco-Park Rafey”, Dominican Republic
Country:Dominican Republic
Location of conflict:Santiago de los Caballeros
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Between 2008 and 2011, the municipality of Santiago de los Caballeros in cooperation with Galician development funds and civil society organizations launched the “Programa Integral de mejoramiento del barrio Santa Lucía”, which would led to the sanitation of the Rafey dumpsite, infrastructural and socio-economic improvements in the neighborhood and the establishment of a recycling center managed by the waste pickers association of Rafey [3].

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Project area:60 ha
Level of Investment for the conflictive project4,700,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:10,000
Start of the conflict:2011
Company names or state enterprises:Green Wheels Dominicana Srl from United States of America - Concessionary of Eco-Parque Rafey
Lavo Investments from Italy - Operator of landfill and recycling center between 2012 and 2017, subcontracted by Green Wheels
Cilpen Global from Dominican Republic - Manages Eco-Parque Rafey, subcontracted by Green Wheels
Relevant government actors:Municipal Government of Santiago de los Caballeros
Government of Dominican Republic
International and Finance InstitutionsCooperación Gallega from Spain - Financed development project in Sant Lucía between 2008 - 2011
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Asociación de Recicladores del Eco-Parque Rafey
Movimiento Nacional de Recicladores Dominicanos (MNR)
Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Recicladores (RedLacre)
Sociedad Ecológica del Cibao (SOECI)
Fundación Solidaridad
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec)
WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment – Globalizing and Organizing)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Global warming, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Proposal and development of alternatives:Waste pickers demand the inclusion into the recycling work at the Eco-Park Rafey as opposed to the current situation that implies the complete privatization of waste. The waste pickers association moreover demands sufficient pay for recycled materials and the sharing of benefits with the entire waste pickers community. For the case that waste pickers had to leave Rafey, they demanded monetary compensations and the provision of other job opportunities to make a living.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Even though environmental damage in Rafey is being remediated, the social reality remains disillusioning: The formerly community-run sorting center – an achievement of waste picker organization - became privatized and over 400 waste pickers, largely without any other means to make a living and survive, became expelled from the site. While waste pickers continued to claim human rights and a socially inclusive recycling model, even informal waste picking remains prohibited and sanctioned with violence and discrimination.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Arlene María, R. (2011): Informe final del Proyecto Integral de Mejoramiento del Barrio Sant Lucía. De La Mosca a Santa Lucía: una experiencia de mejoramiento integral barrial. Santiago: Fundación Solidaridad / Xunta de Galicia.

[2] Recicladores del Eco-parque Rafey (2017): Marcha de los recicladores de Rafey por sus derechos. Globalrec, 28.07.2017. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[6] Diario Libre (2014): Buzos paralizan labores en vertedero de Rafey. 02.06.2014. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[7] Asociación de Recicladores del Ecoparque Rafey (2014): Video, Facebook, 09.11.2014. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[8] Asociación del Eco-Parque Rafey (2015): Como respuestas a las protestas de los recicladores Lavo Investment toma nuevas represalias. Globalrec, 23.02.2015. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[9] Asociación del Eco-Parque Rafey (2015): Recicladores de Rafey denuncian malas condiciones de trabajo y amenazas a sus vidas. Globalrec, 16.02.2015. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[10] Recicladores del Eco-parque Rafey (2017): Recicladores del Eco-parque Rafey reclaman libertad inmediata de detenidos. Globalrec, 07.07.2017. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[14] Reyes, M. (2017): Buzos piden RD$40 millones para abandonar vertedero Rafey., 27.06.2017. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[20] Diario Libre (2014): Iniciarán la construcción de una planta energética. 01.04.2014. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[15] Rosario, F. (2017): Alcaldía y empresa recicladora sumergen a la. Pobreza estroma a mas de 300 recicladores de base. Video Youtube, 27.07.2017. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

[16] Rosario, F. (2017): Recicladores de rafe protesta frente a Cilpen global. Video Youtube, 27.07.2017. (Online, last access: 15.03.2020)
[click to view]

Other documents

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Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update14/04/2020
Conflict ID:4998
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