Kolkata (West Bengal) India
List of Waste Picker Groups in Kolkata (West Bengal)
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City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker
A Conversation With: Haider Ali, a waste picker from Kolkata, West Bengal, India. He works for the Tiljala Society for Human and Educational Development (Tiljala SHED; website: http://www.tished.org/index_006.htm).
Short Personal StoryHaider joined an NGO in Kolkata called Tiljala Society for Human and Educational Development (Tiljala SHED) 14 years ago. Tiljala SHED runs a programme to “develop a scientific handling of the solid waste involving waste pickers for a sustainable livelihood.” Twelve years ago, Tiljala SHED began a partnership with Miserieor, a Germany-Catholic church organization, which has supported a project for the rehabilitation of waste pickers. Haider has various roles in the NGO, but currently he is mainly engaged as a driver.
Official Waste Management SystemIn Kolkata, residents generally throw garbage out into the streets, where municipal workers with pushcarts collect it on a daily basis. In some areas the municipal workers have vehicles and sometimes residents come out and hand them waste instead of putting it on the ground. The waste is taken to a central point, from which it is trucked to one of the city’s two landfills (one of the landfills has an incinerator). Private companies are not contracted for waste management. There is no official recycling or compost project in the city, though there are informal businesses doing recycling. Some NGOs have projects that encourage source separation, but the general public does not understand or cooperate. Haider says, “the municipality does not play its role properly,” in terms of public education.
Informal Recycling SystemIt is estimated that there are 25,000-50,000 waste pickers in Kolkata, but there has not been a formal count. There is no integration of waste pickers into the city’s waste management system. Like the municipal employees, informal waste pickers in Kolkata also collect from outside residents’ homes, sometimes using pushcarts and often carrying recyclables in sacks slung over their shoulders. They also collect paper, plastic, glass, metal, and organic material from public bins and the landfill. As there are no sorting centers, segregation takes place by waste pickers in front of their homes or wherever they can find open space. The waste pickers mainly sell what they collect to middlemen.
Current Central IssuesOne of the biggest challenges Tiljala SHED sees is a lack of recognition by the municipality. The waste pickers are often harassed and are kept from collecting waste; pushed to be “rehabilitated” by attending trainings for other professions. There was an attempt by Tiljala SHED to create an association from which waste pickers could sell materials and get a decent price, but the project is no longer operating. Despite this, there is increasing competition in the informal waste picking sector, as increasing numbers of people are moving to the city and collecting waste in order to survive. Tiljala SHED is seeking to instill a sense of dignity among waste pickers and “change the mindset of waste pickers as thieves to key environmental workers.”