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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Index of contents:

Local initiatives, global sharing: Three meetings in Pune, India
Pensions — a right, not a favour
WtE in Ghazipur: “Stop!” say citizens
‘Yes to schoolbags, no to sacks!’
Indian waste pickers state their case in Europe: Zero Waste and Double Standards

This newsletter is also available in Hindi.

Local initiatives, global sharing: Three meetings in Pune, India

Waste pickers, activists and policy makers from India, Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe exchanged experiences and ideas, in an atmosphere of vibrant camaraderie in the course of three important meetings hosted by SWaCH and KKPKP in Pune recently:

  • 24th to 25th April: Consultation of Urban Local Bodies on ‘Integrating waste pickers in SWM’
  • 25th to 26th April 2012:  Second National Convention of the Alliance of Indian Waste pickers
  • 27th to 29th April 2012: Global Strategic Workshop of Waste pickers

During the course of these three meetings, participants visited local initiatives to see the solutions evolved by SWaCH and KKPKP in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, discussed the strategies and systems used in different countries, exchanged views with municipal officers and talked about how best to garner recognition and support for the community of waste pickers globally. Equally importantly, they forged friendships across the boundaries of language and culture.

ULB Consultation (24th-25th April 2012)

The hectic week began with the Consultation of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) organized by the Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers. This Consultation aimed to promote and showcase effective and inclusive models of Solid Waste Management (SWM) and also to encourage ULBs to adopt these. Representatives from 17 Indian ULBs, as also government representatives and one ULB each from Indonesia and Nepal took part.

Participants discussed local initiatives in SWM, and laws and policies that had been found effective in promoting the integration of waste pickers into SWM. For example, the representatives from Bangalore and Pimpri Chinchwad both shared their experiences in registering waste pickers and issuing ID cards; others discussed how a policy measure like banning plastic bags or restricting access to landfills can affect the earnings of waste pickers; yet others shared their own learnings — for example,  Lucia Fernandez, Coordinator of Global Waste who works in Latin America, pointed to three steps that she found essential in the process of setting up an inclusive system of SWM :  one, a mutually negotiated legal framework; two, mobilization and advocacy for creating political will;  and three, the essential step of organizing waste pickers.
The Consultation ended with a Q and A session and a visit to Pune Municipal Corporation and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation to see the work of SwaCH in practice.

Second National Convention of Waste pickers (24th – 26th April 2012)

About 300 waste pickers from 20 cities, representing 29 organizations, participated in the Second National Convention of Waste pickers. They were joined by local waste pickers from Pune city. Delegates from more than 20 countries worldwide who had arrived in Pune for the global meet which was to follow, participated as observers.
The National Convention aimed  to facilitate an exchange of ideas and experiences between waste pickers from different parts of India, create solidarity in their struggles and forge a common agenda to work together for a better future.
After the extensive field visit to see the work of SWaCH and KKPKP, the participants commented that  the respect and cooperation that Pune’s waste pickers got from residents, officials and others was impressive. They felt that this was a very workable model and easily replicable – SWaCH has successfully demonstrated in Pune that it is possible to scale an inclusive SWM system. They also appreciated the work that SWaCH is doing to negotiate a health insurance scheme with the government, for the waste pickers.
Some of the key issues of concern that emerged during the National Convention were:

  • Diminishing access to waste in the face of poorly thought-out SWM schemes,  privatisation of waste collection,  and the advent of incinerator technology, all leading to a loss of earnings for waste pickers
  • Difficulty in getting citizens to cough up the monthly fees (in many Indian cities, waste collection is still seen as a caste-based ‘duty’ and not a professional service)

When AIW’s work plan for next year was discussed, campaigns against child labour, and campaigns to push for the registration of waste pickers and pensions were high on the agenda.
The Convention ended with plays, performances, music and a brilliant drum circle with over 500 people making music together on recycled waste ‘drums’!

Global Strategic Workshop of Waste pickers (27th to 29th April 2012)
The Global Strategic Workshop saw waste picker representatives from 26 different countries discuss global  threats to waste pickers’ livelihoods:  Privatisation of waste collection services and corporate who see waste and recycling as big earners, were major threats to the waste picker communities worldwide. Another increasingly common hazard was incineration — the burning of waste, which was not only a threat to the livelihoods of waste pickers, but also environmentally unsound.

“Waste-to-energy is being sold to governments as an environmentally clean solution,” said Neil Tangri, of the Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives. “But what’s going to burn is paper, cardboard and plastics. The very things that are recyclable.”
Participants in this workshop too went on a field trip to observe SWaCH’s work for themselves. They saw the door-to-door collection in practice as also the recycling facilities, biogas plants, KKPKP shop and sorting sheds.

The global strategic workshop drew to a close on a positive note with the inauguration of the ‘Zero Waste’ ward on May 1, Labour day/Maharashtra Day. SWaCH has been working for the past year with PMC and other Civil Society Organisations in Pune, to create a ‘Zero Waste’ ward.  Based on its success, this initiative will later be launched in 15 more wards.

Post-Pune meet: Nepal –  replicating the SWaCH model

Srijana Devkota, Practical Action, Nepal

Participants from the organisation Practical Action (PA) working in Nepal, described the ULB workshop as “brilliant learning from the process of integration of waste pickers and their presence in the workshop.”  The Nepal government representatives who had also participated, appreciated the sharing from different organisations and waste pickers themselves and have agreed to facilitate a project to replicate the inclusive SWaCH model in Nepal. The most useful part of the workshop for participants from PA was the exchange of information and experiences with delegates from local bodies, organisations from different countries working in the sector and the waste pickers themselves.

Action: PA has planned a national level workshop to disseminate the findings of their current research project. Motivated by the experiences shared during the meetings in Pune, they also plan to use this workshop as a launching point to lobby with policy makers for social recognition and social protection of waste pickers and their inclusion in the formal waste management sector in Nepal.

Post-Pune meet: Chinese delegates ‘inspired’ !

Liwen Chen

The participants from China found the First Global Strategy Workshop of Waste pickers “really amazing”. Through the global workshop – and the case studies of places like Pune and Brazil — we understood the importance of recycling and the vital role that waste pickers play in solid waste management (SWM). We not only learned about other countries’ experiences, we also got inspiration and ideas to start work in China, especially in Beijing.
As an environmental activist working on waste issues, I was impressed by the way waste pickers in other countries are organized and involved in the waste management system, how NGOs campaign for the integration of waste pickers and waste management, and how waste pickers and NGOs work together to evolve models for inclusive SWM. These are all issues that my country, China, should explore.
When I asked the Chinese waste pickers about their impressions of this workshop, they told me that they were amazed by the strong organized power of the waste pickers. They want to learn more about the process of organizing a union and hope to initiate a similar process in China.
Action: In the first step, we are considering initiating an alliance for waste pickers in Beijing. After all, there are about 200,000 waste pickers in Beijing, a city with a population of 20,000,000. Next, we will talk with the government about exploring ways for integrating the city’s waste pickers and waste management.

Post-Pune Meet: China – four ideas to take home

Jun Sun, ICO, China

As a Chinese NGO working with waste pickers, the following four aspects of the Pune meetings made a real impression on us:

1. Waste pickers in India, South America and Africa are organised enough to voice their
opinions on issues like the international carbon emission trade, the establishment of inclusive waste recycle models, and fight to protect their civil rights. Voting in the general election in not the only way they express their demands.

2. Waste picking is permitted by law and is ranked as an occupation in India and other countries. As a result, waste pickers can form an NPO or company, playing a role as part of the waste processing and recycling industry together with the municipal department. The success of the SWACH model has demonstrated this.

3. Employment is the foundation of the livelihood of citizens. Any technical improvement in household waste recycling should not result in significant loss of livelihood to waste pickers. The SWaCH model has kept the basic human rights of waste pickers as its foundation.

4. The workshops introduced us to some lively and interactive techniques for facilitating group sessions — like the drum circle, drawing and key word games, etc. We will introduce these to the activities of Chinese NGOs.

The waste pickers in China have now been ranked as workers in the waste sorting and recycling economy. The inability of government and related industries to cover the enormous demand for door to door waste collection has become clear and small waste collecting stations are being set up. At the same time, some volunteers are also trying to set up waste picker NGOs.

The above four aspects will help us in launching our waste picker programme.

Post-Pune meet: Bangladesh – now better equipped to tackle issues

Subash Chandra Biswas (Chairperson), ASD, Bangladesh

ASD-Bangladesh (Association of Sustainable Development, Bangladesh),  a nonprofit, Non-Governmental Organization working to empower waste pickers and farming communities recently participated in the week-long series of meetings and events on local and international issues related to waste pickers’ rights hosted by SWaCH in Pune.

As beginners in the field of Solid Waste Management (SWM) and in the organizing of waste pickers, the two representatives of ASD-Bangladesh found the Pune meetings and field visits to SWaCH projects very educative. They also learned about many different initiatives that had been tried by waste pickers in countries as diverse as Brazil and Indonesia. After their interactions in Pune, they feel better equipped to tackle the issues arising from climate change, scarcity of land for landfills, urbanization and increasing waste generation due to lifestyle changes and gained insights relating to local concerns in Bangladesh.

On their return home, the ASD participants shared their learning with waste picker representatives, ASD-Bangladesh Board Members, and representatives of the Magura municipality where ASD is initiating work.

Action: The following important activities have been planned in collaboration with the Magura municipality, from July 2012 onwards:
Objective 1: Developing a network of waste pickers & NGOs towards promotion of a MSW management project (initially in Khulna region/division). This will involve:

  • Recruiting staff & volunteers for planning & implementing activities
  • Mapping and publishing a list of NGOs involved with MSW management and associations of waste pickers & cleaners
  • Organizing solidarity-building and idea-sharing meetings with representatives of waste pickers’ organizations and NGOs, as well as technical and networking consultations

Objective 2:  Strengthening MSW Initiatives in Magura municipality by:

  • Organising a high-profile inaugural ceremony of the MSW Project with representatives of all major stake-holders and the media
  • Raising awareness among waste pickers
  • Facilitating Focused Group Discussion (FGD) with stakeholders
  • Arranging need-based Early Childhood Education for children of waste pickers and cleaners
  • Creating more public awareness about the need to Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
  • Training on alternative income/employment generating activities for adults from waste picker families
  • Providing safety material support
  • Warm clothes distribution among babies, women  and elderly members of waste pickers’ families
  • Observation of ‘International Human Rights Day’ & ‘World Environment Day’
  • Progress monitoring/review and re-planning of activities for the next year

Pensions – a right, not a favour

On 25th February, 2012 the city of Pune witnessed the kind of mass gathering that it has not seen in a long time: 30,000 workers from the unorganised sector came together under one roof for the Pension Parishad to voice one united demand: Pensions for all workers in the unorganised sector. The Parishad, hosted by the Hamal Panchayat, was attended by rickshaw drivers, waste pickers, domestic workers, construction workers and other such workers. All of them willingly gave up their day’s earnings and spent money travelling from different parts of Maharashtra to come and raise their voice about their demands.

Speaking at the convention, veteran labour leaders Baba Adhav and Aruna Roy emphasised that a pension was the right of all workers who contributed labour to society and to building the economy – they were not demanding handouts from the government or the corporate sector. Baba Adhav also declared that the Pune meeting was the beginning of a sustained campaign for pensions – they would not stop until their demands were fulfilled. If necessary, the struggle would be taken to the doorstep of the government in New Delhi.

Dharna at Jantar Mantar
And this is exactly where the next Pension Parishad meeting was held. From 7th to 11th May, 2012, 3000 working poor, mostly elderly, from 22 states of India participated in a Pension Parishad dharna at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the capital. Once again, workers willingly sacrificed a week’s earnings to travel thousands of kilometres in the scorching heat and draw attention to their demand. A hundred motorcyclists of the Pune-based Hamal Panchayat rode from Pune to Delhi to participate in the dharna. The motorcyclists campaigned along the way and raised awareness and solicited support on the issue.
The Pension Parishad in New Delhi also had public hearings on related issues, such as marginalised and vulnerable groups, Universal Health Care, the National Food Security Bill, the Accountability and Grievance Redress Bill and how to take this campaign forward. In addition, there were discussions on vulnerable groups such as the Primitive Tribal Groups [PTG], sex workers, the transgender community, HIV positive people who are among the worst victims of lack of care and support. Some of these groups cannot get work even at a younger age. These groups should also be considered for appropriate income support beyond what is guaranteed to others.

India can(’t) afford it!
Bolivia, Lesotho, Nepal and Kenya are countries with large populations and less developed economies than India  — yet they have managed to implement universal or near universal non-contributory old age pension schemes!

The universal non-contributory old age pension system would require about 1,92,000 crore rupees per year – an almost negligible amount compared to the exemptions given in the budgets to the corporate sector. The total expenditure (both Central as well as State) will be about 2.1% of the GDP or 12.9% of total government expenditure according to the Union Budget 2012-13.

What we are asking for
The main demands put forth by the Pension Parishad are:

  • A universal and non-contributory Old Age Pension System to be established immediately by the government with a minimum amount of monthly pension not less than 50% of minimum wage or Rs 2000/- per month, whichever is higher.
  • The pension to be an individual entitlement for all eligible citizens of India.
  • The monthly pension amount to be indexed to inflation bi-annually and revised every two to three years in the same manner as is done for salaries/pensions of government servants.
  • Any individual 55 years or older to be eligible for the old age pension.
  • For women, eligibility age for pensions to be 50 years.
  • For highly vulnerable groups (such as the Primitive Tribal Groups, Transgender, Sex Workers, PWDs), the eligibility age to be 45 years or fixed according to their particular circumstances.
  • No one to be forced to compulsorily retire from work on attaining the age of eligibility for universal old age pension.
  • A single window system for Old Age Pensions.
  • APL / BPL criteria should not be used for exclusion.
  • The payment of pension not to be used to deny any other social security / welfare benefit such as benefit under the Public Distribution System.

Individuals whose income is higher than the threshold level for payment of income tax and those who are receiving pension from any other sources that exceeds the pension amount under the Universal Old Age Pension Programme will be excluded

Your growth, our labour?
Between 2000 and 2010, the organized sector added less than 0.3% workers annually to the work-force, while the GDP of the country grew at more than 8%. It is clear that much of the contribution to this growth came from the workers in the unorganized sector.  They have built the infrastructure, provided the services, It is only just that they are adequately compensated for this when they can longer earn.
Photo credits: Digvijay Singh. Check the gallery of photos.

WtE in Ghazipur: “Stop!” say citizens

Source: All India Kabari Mazdoor Mahasangh
On 24th March 2012, the Ghazipur Anti-Incinerator Committee (GAIC) organized a citizens’ hearing on the 1300 tpd Waste-to-Energy (W-t-E) incinerator being built at Ghazipur, a thickly populated area (pop: 36 lakhs) near New Delhi. Led by local residents and waste pickers, more than 300 people gathered to demand an immediate stop to the ongoing work on the incinerator. The All India Kabari Mazdoor Mahasangh (AIKMM), a union of waste pickers in Delhi and the NCR, was one of the leading organizers.
Speakers at the meeting included: Ashim Roy (National Secretary NTUI), Dr Sunil Pandey (TERI), Sant Ram (President Ghazhipur Residents’ Welfare Association), Shibu Nair (Environmentalist and Researcher, Thanal), and Shashi Bhushan Pandit (Secretary, AIKMM Union).

Sant Ram, President of the Ghazipur Residents’ Welfare Association: “Our DDA colony, school and a dairy farm are 60 feet away from the plant…healthcare facilities are within…1 km. Locating an incinerator in Ghazipur in order to burn Delhi’s waste is an environmental crime.”

Waste incineration systems are expensive and do not eliminate or adequately control the toxic emissions from today’s chemically complex municipal waste. Shibu Nair, from Thanal Environmental Group, Kerala pointed out that, “nearly 200 toxic chemicals and heavy metals are known to be associated with incinerator emissions. Even the most modern incinerators release toxic metals, dioxins, and acid gases. Far from eliminating the need for a landfill, waste incinerator systems produce toxic ash and other residues.”
Three Waste-to-Energy incinerators, in Okhla, Ghazipur and Bawana have been already contracted to Jindal, IL& FS and Ramky companies respectively. Together, they will incinerate over 8000 tpd of waste. When operationalised, these projects will affect the livelihoods of over 200,000 waste pickers for whom waste picking is the only source of livelihood. It is ironic that such projects incinerate the same waste that can be recycled.
Dunu Roy of Hazards Centre emphasised the importance of “…’cold’ technologies like composting and biogas…to deal with organic waste.” If adopted, they will solve half of Delhi’s waste crisis. In fact, the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Integrated Plant Nutrient Management has recommended setting up of 1000 compost plants all over the country.
The GAIC passed a resolution with the following demands:

  • Stop all on-going work on the Ghazipur incinerator immediately
  • Scrap all Waste-to-Energy incinerator project proposals
  • Adopt participatory and decentralized waste management policies that do not disproportionately force any single community to live with the city’s waste
  • Recognize and support the informal waste recycling sector by adopting policies that include the waste pickers

“Incinerators cost cities and municipalities more and provide fewer jobs than comprehensive recycling and composting. They prohibit the development of local recycling-based businesses.  Instead we ask for… inclusion of waste pickers in formal waste management, like door-to-door collection, which will ensure better segregation at source and hence end dependence on large centralized facilities.” said Shashi Bhushan Pandit of the All India Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh.

‘Yes to schoolbags, no to sacks!’

KKPKP’s anti-child labour campaign

Children should be in school, not on the streets picking waste, no matter how dire the family’s situation. This has been the stand that the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) has taken since its inception in 1995 when a survey had revealed that the number of child waste pickers in Pune was high and that more than half had waste picker parents who were members, or potential members, of KKPKP.

The members of KKPKP had then sworn an oath to educate their children. These early members of the union made it their duty to convince all those who joined later, about the importance of schooling. The message was clear: Let our children learn, not earn. And the results were gratifying: by 1998 the number of child waste pickers in Pune had halved and only 1% were children of KKPKP members.

This determination to root out child labour and to improve the lives of waste pickers through education, was visible recently at a function organised by KKPKP on 23rd April , the eve of Anti-Child Labour Day, to launch a renewed campaign against this vicious practice. In its first phase, the campaign will focus on getting scrap shop dealers to stop buying waste from underage waste pickers. KKPKP stresses that though the incidence may have declined amongst union members, there are still many children collecting waste in the city and both government and civil society need to be reminded of this fact.

Bringing together the two important strands of campaigning against child labour and encouraging the education of waste pickers’ children, the occasion saw 460 members’ children receive scholarships under the Shiksha Sahyog Yojana of the LIC. Since these scholarships are for students in 8th-12th standards, their parents were also felicitated for having kept the children in school against all odds. Speaking on the occasion, veteran labour leader Baba Adhav pointed out that these children and parents, who had seen their futures blossom due to education, were the ideal people to spearhead the anti-child labour campaign. Members of KKPKP, their children, activists and Pune’s citizens then took an oath to eliminate child labour.
Members of KKPKP and their school-going children shared their personal experiences and the difficulties they had overcome while pursuing the simple goal of a school education.  KKPKP’s proactive role in facilitating admissions, distributing scholarships, organising tutoring and constant vigil against dropouts was appreciated in simple but sincere words. Later, some of the children presented a thrilling Malkhamb demonstration. A representative of Tech Mahindra also announced the donation of 10 computers for the children of KKPKP members.
The anti-child labour campaign recognises that in an itinerant profession like waste collection, it is difficult to pin responsibility for the employment of children on any one person. Many of the child waste pickers are children of migrants with no fixed address. Hence, the campaign plans to intervene at different links in the chain – the first step will be to get scrap shops to stop buying waste from, or employing, underage waste pickers.
KKPKP hopes to work with the government bodies to implement existing legislation and to use the allotted funds to provide the required support and monitoring to ensure that children remain in school and not on the streets.  Ultimately, there has to be a move away from the current tendency to ‘punish the offenders’ without tackling the contributory factors.

In the meanwhile, join the KKPKP children in saying: “Yes to schoolbags, No to sacks!

Indian waste pickers state their case in Europe: Zero Waste and Double Standards

Dharmesh Shah, GAIA, Chennai

Two important international meetings with policy implications for Indian waste pickers were held in May 2012. Rebecca Kedari and Malati Gadgil of SWaCH, Kalpana Baliwant of Pune Municipal Corporation, and Dharmesh Shah of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)  presented the viewpoints of Indian waste pickers at the Congress of Zero Waste in Spain, and at the release of the EU Double Standards Report at the European Parliament in Brussels. The delegates made a strong case for less capital-intensive, more people-centred waste management models, with a stronger emphasis on recycling rather than incineration.
The Zero Waste Europe conference highlighted the several dozen highly successful zero waste experiences across Europe. Over 300 participants came together to exchange best practices and define the next steps for the Zero Waste movement in Europe. Participants visited successful zero waste projects such as Usurbil and Hernani in the Basque Country of Spain. Both these municipalities are currently hosting the largest source segregation project in the peninsula.
The model adopted by the municipality of Hernani, with separation at source as the fundamental goal, immediately struck a chord with Rebecca of SWaCH  —  maximum separation at source is precisely what SWaCH members in Pune are also trying to achieve. The most impressive part of the scheme was the hook and bucket system that has received a great response from citizens. Under the system each house was assigned two hooks on several steel pillars installed across the city. These hooks hold a small bucket for organic waste and a bag of recyclables. Different recyclables are collected on different days, except for diapers and sanitary products which are collected daily. In the past year, this system has resulted in over 85% diversion of organic and recyclable waste away from landfills. Similar stories of high diversion rates were also reported from Italian and other Spanish municipalities.

The talk on ‘double standards’ at the European Parliament in Brussels aimed at appealing to the Members of the Parliament to urge member states to stop buying carbon credits generated from Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)-sponsored waste incinerators and landfill gas projects in India and China. These projects adversely impact the environment and waste picker livelihoods, yet they are being given unwarranted subsidies under the guise of emission reductions.
In their address to the MPs, the SWaCH team pointed out that in the greed for CDM credits, mountains were being moved to ensure implementation of incinerator projects, but the same policy makers were reluctant to lift a finger to support recycling which is more beneficial in the long run. Rebecca urged the Parliamentarians to recognize the contribution of waste pickers globally and stressed the need for a more equitable subsidy distribution – give more incentives to those who recycle, rather than to those who burn waste and create irreversible environmental damage, she argued.
Dharmesh Shah of GAIA highlighted the environmental impacts of specific CDM projects in India. Projects like the Timarpur-Okhla and the Gorai Dumping Ground have proven adverse impacts on the climate and the local environments but due to the recognition provided by the CDM, such toxic technologies were being promoted under the garb of renewable energy, he said. These projects operate on a perverse incentive as the more emissions they generate, the more money they make – undermining the very foundation of the CDM itself!  In her opening presentation, Mariel Vilella of GAIA gave an overview of the main challenges posed by CDM-backed waste projects. She pointed to the double standards of the EU member countries who were buying carbon credits from projects that would be deemed illegal on European soil. The EU has adopted a waste hierarchy which puts incineration as the last option; it is important that the same be encouraged in developing countries too.
The MPs,  including the lead host of the consultation Mr.Raul Romeva, promised to follow up on this issue with the European Commission. A presentation was also made by a representative of the European Commission.



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