The AIW (Indian Alliance of Waste Pickers) workshop on Landfill Workers Struggles and Strategies held in June this year in Mumbai with a view to understanding the situation of waste pickers working in landfills across the country and abroad.
Workshop participants were waste pickers on landfills and staff of waste pickers organizations in India representing the Indian cities of Ahmedabad, Delhi, Ghaziabad, Mumbai, New Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Thane as well as Wiego (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) staff and two waste pickers from South Africa and Senegal.
The current situation with regard to access to waste and waste management in 11 landfills across the country and in Senegal and South Africa were presented by one waste collector from each city working on a landfill. The impact of the closure of dumping grounds on unorganized waste pickers in Vasai-Virar near Mumbai was also shared.
Waste pickers brainstormed a number of issues. These included occupational health issues on landfills; formulation of their demands such as access to recyclables at an increased number of points; improved working conditions; medical and insurance provisions along with livelihood alternatives and recommendations to the government.
Presenters also outlined different strategies to highlight waste picker issues on landfills. They gave information through interactive sessions with graphic presentations, games and exercises. Input ranged from landfill laws; policies and trends in landfill management and the move towards controlled, sanitary landfills which often exclude waste pickers and the implications of this trend.
The workshop highlighted that working conditions of landfill waste pickers across the globe were very similar and so were their problems.
Visit to Delhi – Chintan
Mmapula Baloyi from South Africa and Senegal’s Aliou Faye went to Delhi to see the programmes on the ground run by Chintan Environmental Action and Research Group. They learnt about programmes run by Chintan with its waste picker members who belong to the sister organization Safai Sena.
They also visited Safai Sena’s sorting and packing centre where soft drink bottles are collected, uncapped, bailed and shredded into flakes which fetches a higher selling price than just selling the bottles. All profits are split among Sena members and 50% is directed to Chintan’s projects with waste pickers.
Mmapula and Aliou also saw door-to-door collection of waste with their cycle rickshaws, a scrap shop that gives fair prices to waste pickers and the Okhla landfill where the waste to energy plant has been constructed.
They saw a big scrap shop in Bhopura where waste pickers are employed segregating waste and have started collecting tetrapack, which is used as packaging for beverages and food. This is a model that Tetrapack Pty Ltd is willing to help implement in any nation.
Visit to Pune: KKPKP
Information exchange visits are organized by the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) waste picker trade union in Pune through the Asia Network and the Alliance of Indian Wastepickers regularly to aid an exchange between Indian waste pickers and those abroad to get a picture of each others’ struggles and strategies.
In Pune Mampula and Aliou saw door-to-door collection by members of the SWaCH cooperative. They accompanied members to see how they collect waste from homes with their pushcarts and separate bins for dry and wet waste.
The collectors put the wet waste into compost pits when ready, then the compost is sold and the profits distributed fairly among waste pickers. They also have a sorting area to further classify dry waste and store it if necessary.
They saw a biogas plant that gets wet waste from municipal trucks which collect waste from hotels. SWaCH members sort the waste so that only organics go into the shredder. The gas from this plant supplies electricity to 68 streetlights.
They also saw a mini-biogas plant, which is movable and accommodates 200 kgs of wet waste and produces cooking gas. Aliou was very interested in launching a biogas plant in Senegal because apart from bread which is sold to piggeries, wet waste is simply thrown away. Because Senegal has energy issues, he felt that biogas was a solution and he aimed to discuss it with Senegalese government representatives.
The African waste pickers heard about the formation of KKPKP and its work with waste pickers and saw a Pune landfill. Local wastepickers told how their main problem was that truck drivers sometimes keep the high quality dry waste and then the waste pickers got nothing of much value. Aliou and Mmapula noticed that the smell was the same in their dumpsites, and that the work was also similar.
While interacting with local waste collectors about work situations in landfills in both India and Africa, pickers realized that the situation was similar in all countries. The threat of privatization, and minimal government support or protection loomed over everyone’s heads as they realized our struggles are all the same.