Delhi personifies the cliche, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” In fact, for many in Delhi, trash transcends the frivolity of most treasures and provides the means to harness basic needs such as food, water, and shelter. Who are the waste-pickers? Simply put, they are the individuals, families, and communities who thrive off of materials that others deem useless.
The process is fairly straight forward. First, the average person discards materials, maybe into a trash can (although public trash cans are extremely rare), onto the street, or into a household dumpster. Waste-pickers come around and collect the garbage (sometimes off the street, other times from knocking on doors) and haul it away in a cart that is pulled via a bicycle, and bring it to a designated area to be sorted. Yes, that is a Dominos box.
Once the waste is sorted into plastics, papers, and compostables, the waste-picker sells the materials. An extremely successful waste-picker can earn around 150 rupees a day freelancing (about $3 USD).
This system not only provides a livelihood for millions of people, but it also ensures that materials are recycled. In this respect, Delhi has a more advanced waste management system (albeit imperfect) then the United States, because only materials with no remaining use end up in landfills. Consider the copious amounts of recyclables/compostables that end up in U.S. landfills because of general carelessness; these materials contribute to our carbon footprint instead of being put to a beneficial use.
This is an extremely oversimplified version of what goes on around Delhi, as there are complex procedures for the sorting and selling of waste, especially E-Waste (electronic waste); however this description captures the essence of what occurs all around this major metropolis. Remember, this entire process is done without any help, oversight, or input from the government – which means that waste-pickers comprise the informal sector and receive very few legal rights. This also means that the government does not provide municipal waste pickup for households or businesses … personally, I would not want to imagine what would happen to the (already littered) Delhi streets and rivers if the informal sector failed to absorb the waste.
Where does Chintan fit in?
Chintan has five major initiatives to help support the waste-pickers and their essential function. It is important to note that although this profession may not be desirable to many of us, Chintan does not seek to change the profession itself, but rather improve the inadequate working conditions; for example, Chintan seeks to create more substantial sorting areas, specific rules for the disposal of hazardous waste, and to provide sanitary equipment for workers at affordable prices. The five initiatives are:
1) Voice for Waste: This program creates focus groups of waste-pickers that discuss issues, policy decisions, and potential campaigns to improve their profession.
2) Low Carbon Future: This program works with bulk waste producers such as malls, offices, and businesses to “green” their systems. In addition to requiring a reduction of waste creation, Chintan helps to manage the waste that is created by contracting it to specific waste-pickers. This ensures that it is thoroughly sorted and also provides a stable income for some of the waste-pickers.
3) No Child in Trash: This initiative helps educate the children of waste-pickers in informal schools that Chintan builds (with the help of sponsors) so that the children can eventually join the formal education system, or at least have enough of an education to make substantial choices about their future.
4) Scavengers to Managers: This program communicates with neighborhoods and arranges for waste-pickers to come for door-to door collection. This means that a waste-picker will have a set number of houses in a set area, as opposed to scavenging whatever possible. Chintan serves as the middle man between the communities and the waste-pickers because each household pays a monthly rate to Chintan which in turn pays the waste-pickers a salary.
5) Knowledge Power: This initiative focuses on researching problems that waste-pickers face in order to best inform which policy platforms Chintan supports.
I hope this overview is helpful, I myself am still learning about all the complexities surrounding this issue so please let me know if I can answer any questions!
Hindi word of the day: acha = good
Posted By Clara Kollm
Posted Jun 23rd, 2011