Waste-pickers – Salvaging the city’s garbage

Waste picker at Bellandur. Pic: Nikita Malusare

What do Lakshmi, Kumudha, Anamma, Musthada, Mansoor and Sadhashiva have in common? They were all part of the unaccounted people living in Bangalore, making ends meet by sifting through garbage for recyclables. So what has changed for them now?

Waste-pickers form an important link in the recycling pyramid

In 2012, the BBMP following Lok Adalat’s directive, registered waste-pickers and provided them with identity cards, thus taking a step in formally recognising their role in the city’s solid waste management system.  Even though the informal sector plays a crucial role in waste management and recycling, there is still low visibility of the relevance and value of the work they perform! Low social status, exploitation, hostile and aggressive attitude boarding on suspicion is still prevalent in various places in the city. With an increasing thrust towards privatisation and large scale waste-to-energy projects, the informal sector is fighting to secure threats from livelihood. In an attempt to move away from this kind of discrimination and secure their rights, the efforts saw the genesis of a membership based waste-picker/itinerant buyers/sorters led waste-picker cooperative in the city, titled HasiruDala meaning Green Force.

Tracing back on their efforts, Lakshmi, 48, President of Hasiru Dala Cooperative, who has been a waste-picker for the past 29 years says, “ Most people want us to be invisible, but in 2011 that changed with the then Mayor Sharadamma, handing 200 of us waste-pickers IDs. However, we still have a long way to go… we want better  working  conditions,  security  of  livelihoods,  recognition  as  ‘workers’,  respect,  dignity  and  social  security”.

It is a well know fact that waste-pickers form a very important link in the recycling pyramid. Several studies have documented this contribution. The 2010 UN Habitat publication states “Waste pickers perform between 50-100 per cent of all ongoing waste collection in most cities in developing countries – at no cost to the city budget”,

Integrating them into the SWM system is essential

“Better working conditions and security of livelihoods is possible if the government implements segregation at source and ensures that waste-pickers are included in the existing SWM system. Access to run Dry Waste Collection centres, is a positive step in this direction”, says Anslem Rosario, Waste Wise Trust, who has been working with waste-pickers for the past 20 years.

A step towards integration of some part of the informal sector in the city has been seen in the form of access to run “Dry Waste Collection Centres”, by waste-pickers and scrap dealers.  For the month of November 2013, 22 DWCCs have collectively contributed to retrieving about 634 tonnes of dry waste. 

Ward No and Name Operated by***  Started on Qty of Dry wate collected in the month of Dec-13** Quantity of Dry waste collected from the date of operation till 31st Dec 2013 (in tonnes)
3 – Allalsandra SD 1-Oct 9.97 92.73
12 – Shettihalli SD 7-Aug 4.45 17.06
23 – Nagawara SD 1-Dec 0.61 0.61
39 – Chokkasandra WP 5-Aug 5.44 8.3
43 – Nandini layout WP 25-Jul 5.53 19.9
44 – Marapanapalya SD 17-Oct 26.53 159.04
60 – Sagayapuram WP 18-Jul 3.74 9.24
61 – SK Garden SD 21-Jun 14.21 78.28
64 & 65 – Malleshwaram SD 2-Aug 3.03 8.9
94 – Gandhi nagar SD 3-Feb 10.1 60.23
95 – Subhash Nagar SD 5-Aug 0 0.04
98 – Prakash Nagar SD 7-Oct 0.62 1.72
101 – Kamakshi Palya WP 30-Sep 10.11 18.38
109 – Chikpet SD 5-Aug 1.55 1.85
112 – Domlur NGO 15-May 10.67 174.66
126 – Maruthi Mandir WP 1-Dec 1.83 1.83
159 – Kengeri SD 10-Jun 5.33 27.88
165 – Ganesh Mandira/ Katrikuppe SD 1-Dec 1.83 1.83
168 – Pattabhirama Nagar SD 1-Oct 5.65 45.39
178 – Sarakki SD 1-Jun 1.2 4.79
183 – Chikalsandra SD 1-Dec 6.24 6.24
194 – Gottigere* WP Oct ’13 1.42 3.36
195 – Konanakunte* SD Dec ’13 1.69 1.69
Total Quantity 131.74 743.94
* Waste Collected, yet to be recycled
**In addition to this, more than 12 tonnes of branded litter collected, is  waiting for a solution
*** Scrap Dealer – SD, Waste picker – WP

DWCCs under-performing at present

However, the journey has not been easy. “The objective of Dry Waste Collection Centres at the ward level is to improve recycling rates and facilitate the buy-back and take-back of dry waste”, says Shalini Khanna Charles of SWMRT (Solid Waste Management Round Table). She adds, “It is only possible to improve the recycling rates, if implementation of segregation at source moves from paper to action on the ground. Most DWCCs are under performing as the inflow of segregated waste is very poor. This can be corrected if everyone works in tandem– residents, elected representatives, BBMP officers and the contractors”.  

The lack of understanding of the concepts of DWCC makes one assume that the centres are a profit making entity; what one fails to understand is that these centres can manage a break-even, only if there is an equal quantity of high value waste as well. “The economic viability in the DWCC can happen only if the bulk generators are serviced by the DWCC and if waste-pickers can have access to micro- credit facilities”, says Lakshmi, a waste-picker  

“Very often the biggest complaints that we face from the officers are to dispose the non-commercial waste like cloth and multi-layered plastics”, says Raja who lost out on the HSR shed that was given to him. It was one of the first DWCCs; though very small, it helped to understand what a Kartavya operated.  “There is no market for this waste. When I was running the DWCC, I was made to understand that even the ones that have no value must be stored. In my 10×10 shed,  I had no option but to store it outside, which was the main complaint by the local resident. Addressing this issue, the BBMP did construct a better and bigger place, but I was left out in the bargain”.

“Informal sector systems of collection and recycling should be recognised and enhanced”

“Firstly, this is a very important EPR dimension that the DWCCs can bring in”, says Anslem Rosario. “Most DWCCs that store non-commercial waste have been rebuked on the grounds of unaesthetic display. Most often than not, even if the DWCCs want to accept these materials, it is often contaminated with food or sanitary waste, that there is no other option, but to reject them. We need to seriously work on getting the companies that produce branded litter take responsibility of the packaging. The DWCCs will then work as excellent take- back centres if the government enforces the same as mandated in the Plastic Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2011.

Anslem adds, “Secondly the government must take cognisance of the various rules, directives and reports that are prevalent in the country and must set aside at least 50% of these decentralised systems for the informal sector”. Even, the National Environment Policy, 2006, states that informal sector systems of collection and recycling should be recognised and enhanced.  

“We still have a long way to go and learn.  Our meeting every month, helps us to share our experiences, learnings and challenges. We are learning to keep accounts, work with officers, citizens and Pourakarmikas; what we need is support and cooperation from everyone to do our bit of Kartavya, ”says Lakshmi.

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About Nalini Shekar 2 Articles
Nalini Shekar is the Co-founder of Hasiru Dala.

1 Comment

  1. If I do a find and replace the word
    W _ _ _ E with Human By – products,
    At home they are just
    – Kitchen By-products
    – Shopping By-products.
    Because everything is useful.
    Thank you.

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