There are roughly 1.5 million waste pickers in India. Waste picking ranks lowest in the hierarchy of urban informal occupations in the country and they struggle to lead healthy and productive lives, despite their economic and environmental contribution to society, and despite several commendable efforts by key actors to improve their lives.
Many waste pickers have to endure a difficult everyday reality including regular harassment and extortion – not to mention the health hazards they are subjected to when handling waste. Further, they are self-employed workers with no formal legal relationship with the municipality or the recyclable traders, nor do they have any social security benefits.
On the other side of the spectrum, waste pickers are a vital part of the waste management system. 62 million tons of waste is generated in India annually. Only 75-80% of the municipal waste is collected and a meagre 22-28% of the municipal waste is processed and treated.
This initiative takes a holistic approach to improve the living conditions of waste pickers by supporting them in various aspects. By facilitating collaboration across stakeholders and sectors we address the basic needs of the waste picking community such as education, health, safety and access to fundamental rights, as well as increasing economic opportunities. The initiative also has a strong focus on equity, addressing the basic needs of marginalized groups such as women and girls. In order to succeed we work with different partners from different sectors in this project, all of them bringing their expertise into the collective effort, working towards common goals. Working together will result in lasting impact at a scale beyond what any actor could achieve alone.
Partners in this collective initiative are:
- BBC Media Action – Sector perception change program, to improve professional pride among waste pickers and encourage Bangalore’s general population to respect and value waste picking
- LabourNet and CARE – Development of exit opportunities, for waste pickers who desire to leave the profession
- Hasiru Dala – Improved linkages to government schemes, to enable access to basic services; and establishing counselling programs to reduce incidence of substance abuse and domestic violence in waste picker households
- Save The Children – Improved access to quality education, to enable social mobility for waste pickers’ children
- WaterAid – Affordable access to WASH facilities for waste picker households, with a focus on clean drinking water
- Social Alpha – Development of new waste streams, so as to increase waste picker income, and improve the stability of this income
- The/Nudge Foundation – Operates as a local backbone organization to coordinate the initiative
In India, waste pickers have a major role in the business of collection and recycling waste. If challenges related to the waste pickers lives and the waste sector can be addressed, waste pickers have the potential to be an important part of a global circular system – and could not only contribute to the health and state of our planet, but also uplift themselves out of poverty.