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The contractual deployment of waste pickers in Rio Olympics 2016 has indeed left an indelible legacy and a stark realization of these community servers’ role in the waste crisisbound cities. Two Indian waste pickers co-operatives discuss their work with Vijayalakshmi Sridhar in adding dignity and recognition to the waste pickers and in initiating a circular economy.


Rally for dignity

Waste pickers mostly come from marginalized sections of the society and are the chief providers for their families. They make ends meet through the meager earnings they make through waste picking. Nalini Shekhar, Co-founder, Hasirudala, a membership based nonprofit organization for waste pickers and other informal waste workers functioning in Bengaluru, gives us the indispensable role of waste pickers in a nutshell. “More than 15,000 wastepickers of Bangalore send 1,050 tonnes of waste every day to the recycling units and thereby help the Municipal Corporation of Bangalore (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahangara Pallike) save `84,00,00,000 annually.”

Aparna Susarla, SWaCH Coop, a wholly-owned co-operative of waste pickers in Pune that works in partnership with PMC presents us the data from Pune. “Annually, SWaCH members divert an average of 35,000 tonnes of waste from Uruli landfill into recycling. This saves PMC approximately `5 crores in waste handling costs, `1 crore in tipping fees at the Rochem processing plant and also helps save a significant amount through emissions reduction. Further, they recover materials for recycling, generate employment downstream,contribute to public health, the environment and substantially to the manufacturing economy.”

waste-pickersBengaluru’s dry waste is collected from door-to-door and directed to collection centres called Kartavyas. Here it is sorted into recyclable and no value waste. Today, there are more than 150 such DWCCs across the city, each with a sorting capacity of one tonne of dry waste per day.

As a cooperative, Hasiru Dala goes the extra mile in initiating supplemental benefits for waste pickers. Thanks to their consistent advocacy, the city administration directly signed a memorandum of understanding with the waste pickers /scrap dealers to employ them in 33 DWCCs. “Informal waste workers operating DWCCs are now availing management services from Hasiru Dala to quantify the stock and flow of dry waste,” says Nalini with a sense of accomplishment.

The SWaCH waste collection model is user fee-based. Usually, two workers collect source-segregated waste from 200-300 households, offices, shops and other establishments using manual push carts (or small motorized vehicles in difficult terrain). The waste pickers have rights over recyclables and retain income from the sale of scrap. Wet/organic waste is handed over to the PMC system. In some cases it is composted on site. Dry waste is sorted into categories (plastic/paper/metal/ glass/leather/etc.) and then further fine sorted. Whatever material has a market, is sold.

Recycling-pointAparna explains the indispensability of the waste pickers role thus. “They are strong as an informal sector and have access to waste. If there is no organized collection, it will lead to many socio economic issues,”she tells us. Nalini explains why waste picking and disposal are better than incineration. “It contributes to carbon emission reduction, and secondly, to people’s livelihood. Incineration, an alternative to recycling, requires a lot of capital (according to official of Hitachi Zosen India, Waste to Energy Company- a minimum of 600 tonnes of waste is required with 5-6 acres of land for incineration plant, investment of 100-192 crores, it can maximum have the efficiency of 25% and generate around 11MW of electricity) and subsidies like free provisioning of land, creation of buffer zones and higher prices paid to waste to energy companies to make the plants self sustaining.”

[box type=”shadow” ]“Since it is a user-fee based model, there is direct accountability of service provider to user, integration of waste pickers in the formal SWM system – hence, stability of livelihood, worker-centred, workermanaged, worker-owned – waste pickers will work to protect their own interests and the model encourages segregation at source and maximum recovery of recyclables.”[/box]

The cosmopolitan waste management with its very poor segregation patterns and infrastructure is facing everyday challenges with the landfill sites peaking with the mounting waste. The Municipality Waste Management rule 2011 had included the door-to-door collection of solid waste. However, the waste pickers were never featured in the waste collection value chain. These co-operatives strive to give the waste pickers identity in the SWM domain and also dignity and recognition to their service in the society. In addition to a stable income generation opportunity, enterpreneurship and economic empowerment are at the heart of their efforts. This ranges from procuring government issued ID cards, health insurance schemes, educational scholarship and loans for their children’s education. Real-time training is offered to wastepickers to become professional service providers and to understand the basics of running a business. They also organise formal and informal forums where wastepickers can speak and share their reflection.

Aparna lists the sustainability of SWaCH’s decentralized model. “Since it is a user-fee based model, there is direct accountability of the service provider to the user. Integration of waste pickers in the formal SWM system will hence assure stability of livelihood. Being a worker centred, managed and owned model, the waste pickers will work to protect their own interests and the model will encourage segregation at source and maximum recovery of recyclables.”

Though these co-operatives work on a public-private partnership, there is a lot of unfairness in the SWM system that challenges their services and presents a roadblock to introduce changes and better practises. These range from the unspoken power exerted by the political representatives to the competitive allure the mega incineration projects offer to waste pickers and to the success of these models that are low infrastructure intensive.

But these problems urge the co-operatives to have a clear agenda an focus. Hasirudala has partnered with Bin 1 Bag Movement (Citizen’s movement to ensure segregation) and the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) to bring about changes in the policies related to solid waste management services in Bangalore, inspiring a legal directive for compulsory source segregation and monitoring of door to door waste collection contractors. As it is a next visionary step, Hasirudala aims at propagating awareness encouraging the waste pickers-the stake holders to take center stage. I got garbage is its platform for information storage which authorities and waste pickers share their views and reflections through this forum.

SWaCH joins hands with corporates and local organizations for research and development, to guard resource points, for safety equipment for waste pickers and zero waste programs and marches ahead with clear agendas to empower the waste workers with more lasting job opportunities, seeking citizens’ participation and support and to emerge as a financially sustainable organization. “The SWaCH pro-poor, PPP model can be customized and replicated to other cities. It relies on mobilizing the waste pickers, municipality, citizens as every stakeholder has a role to play. ULB recognition is also needed,” Aparna offers a positive lead.

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