The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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December 03, 2011

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By Manisha Desai, organizer with KKPKP/SWaCH

There were collective gasps from the wastepickers present when they saw the amount of good recyclable waste being buried in the landfill. They couldn’t believe their eyes and were completely shocked beyond words. “My heart has sunk, I can’t believe that they are burying all this good waste,” said Suman More, a waste picker from Pune.

Suman reflected about the landfill: “I didn’t like the landfill at all. What kind of a place is it? They don’t allow wastepickers to enter. I don’t understand why. When there is so much waste lying around – they should let wastepickers and let them come and collect the waste.“

Sushila added that “they are making wastepickers suffer by not allowing them access. This is what wastepickers survive on. This is what their families survive on,” she said.

They also could not comprehend the extraction of gas. Suman said that “they extract gas and then flare most of it, but how are they getting this gas? By burying good recyclable waste!? What is the point? So many wastepickers would have been able to survive off the same waste.”

Sushila added: “ they are spending scores of rupees on each cell to bury such good recyclable materials. What a waste.” Referring to the managers statement of a scientific landfill conserving land and space, she said,  “how is this conserving space? Already 5 out of 8 cells are filled.  Allow wastepickers to come in and we will show you how waste is reduced and recycled.”

Both Sushila and Suman were not quite convinced about the leachate treatment plant, “Has he (manager) drunk the water to know if it is clean? How does he know? He’s letting it out into the clean water!”

They kept stressing on the alternatives, and even tried convincing the municipal official about Biogas and composting.

Pietermaritzburg was a different story all together – it was closer to home. They got to meet wastepickers and understand their problems and concerns. “It was sad seeing their situation, but we were very happy to hear the manager of the dumping ground promise that he would not allow incinerators to come in,” Sushila said.

“Why don’t the wastepickers retrieve everything? There was so much recyclable material that could have been used,” she said.

Both Suman and Sushila felt that there was a need for them to be organized and have good strong leaders. They need activists who will connect with the wastepickers, who will go to each wastepickers house and talk to them and convince them about the need to be organized. “They have a long struggle ahead, but we too were in the same position and had to struggle and fight to get to where we are today.”