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Shifting attitudes of waste pickers

Project time period

20202022

In India, where there is no organised waste management system, waste pickers play a crucial role. Without them, the country would literally drown in waste. However, despite their key role in the society, waste pickers endure daily harassments, rank lowest in the hierarchy of informal occupations and experience low self-esteem. Together with our partner BBC Media Action, we are working to change the perceptions of the waste picking community.

Waste pickers are a vital part of the waste management system in Bangalore; they contribute both environmentally and economically to the society by picking up, cleaning, sorting and segregating recyclable waste and selling it further up the value chain.

Still, waste pickers rank lowest in the hierarchy of urban, informal occupations in India and they struggle to lead healthy and productive lives. Many waste pickers endure a difficult everyday reality, including regular harassment and extortion. As a result many waste pickers, who serve an important societal function, lack self-esteem and social dignity.

Upgrading the view of waste pickers

In our multi-partner collaboration to improve the lives for the waste picker community in Bangalore we take a holistic approach working in various aspects such as social security, education and innovation. One important piece of the puzzle is to work with the perception of waste pickers. 

There is a need to shift the way waste pickers are looked upon, and how they themselves think about their work, going from transient, daily wage work, that is seen as “dirty” – to important, skilled work that contributes to society and the environment.

It’s about shifting the way the population think about where their waste goes, and that waste – and waste pickers – are valuable in India’s circular economy.

Here, communication is a powerful force for positive change and to challenge prejudices. By using social and traditional media, and engaging influencers to amplify the message, BBC Media Action works to improve professional pride within this sector. The general population of Bangalore is encouraged to respect and value waste picking and waste pickers, and are also given a better understanding of waste and waste streams.

During the spring 2021 BBC Media Action launched  “Invaluables” – a communication initiative aiming to shift the way the population think about waste pickers. Central to the initiative is a social experiment revealing the “Invaluable” friends in Bengaluru; friends who always stood by them, but that they never knew they had.

Another important parameter is working to change the way waste pickers think about their own work, to recognize and celebrate the part they play as critical contributors to both society and the economy. We believe that changing attitudes from both ends in this way will lead to greater dignity and wider social acceptance of this group of people.

Project Specifics

  • Total Donation: 14,880,000 SEK
  • Program Period: 20202022
  • Countries: India
  • Focus Areas: Constructive Activism
  • Partners: BBC Media Action

About BBC Media Action

Established in 1998, BBC Media Action is the international charity of the BBC. Working with media and communication to help reduce poverty and support people in understanding their rights, our aim is to inform, connect and inspire people around the world. BBC Media Action reaches some 100 million people across Asia, Africa and the Middle East and Europe, through both legacy and new media platforms – television, radio, print, outdoor, outreach, and of course, digital – both online and mobile.