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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Written by AIKMM


Country India

May 25, 2015

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New Municipal Solid Waste, e-Waste, Bio-medical Waste and Plastic Waste Draft Rules of 2015 continue to Exclude Waste Workers

Date: 25 May (Thursday) 2015
Time: 10:00 am to 5:30 pm
Place: 53, Sangha Rachna, CSD, KK Birla Lane, Opp. IIC Annexes, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi.

We ask you to participate in this important dialogue and enrich it with your expert views on the matter.

There is urgent need to assess the measures that the government has taken over the past fifteen years to improve waste management in the country. Millions of dollars have been spent in large-scale, centralised technocratic solutions with little impact or improvement in levels of recycling. The Municipal Solid Waste, e-Waste, Bio-medical Waste and Plastic Waste laws that are being considered do very little to reform the situation. Instead, they seek to continue with the status quo and only increase the already thriving presence of waste to energy plants across the country. Is this the answer to our waste management woes? A consultation of concerned participants seeks to address this question.

Dear Friends and Supporters,

The Government of India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has recently come out with the Municipal Solid Waste, eWaste, Bio-medical Waste and Plastic Waste Draft Rules 2015. These rules would supersede the earlier rules and have huge implications for the way waste is managed in cities across India. It is important to draw attention to the fact that these rules completely lack focus on the livelihoods of millions of informal workers who have been involved in waste management. It is also unclear whether they will be able to address the problems of pollution control.

Millions of workers are informally involved in collecting, sorting, recycling and selling waste material that someone else has thrown away. Vital actors in the economy, these workers reduce carbon emissions and save energy spent in handling the waste. They also contribute towards saving public money and provide widespread benefits to our society, municipalities and environment.

Despite this, they face harsh working conditions, often-low social status, deplorable living conditions and no support from the government. Although waste collectors recycle about 20 percent of the city’s waste, saving the municipalities millions of rupees every year, they are not given any recognition in legislation. They are both criminalized by the administration and ignored by society. They work without any direct payment, are not properly incorporated into public waste management systems, are socially invisible and seldom reported in official statistics.

The 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) are the most accepted universal recommendations to save the environment. Waste workers are the only workers who help our society follow these three recommendations.

Waste collecting is responsive to the market for recyclables and is often a family enterprise. While it appears to be chaotic work, it is actually highly organized. In some cities, most waste workers are migrants and rejected by the local economy. This puts them in a more vulnerable condition with no legal entitlements despite the fact that they are “The real, Invisible Environmentalists”.
On one hand, waste workers or the informal ‘waste managers’ remain invisible to policy makers. On the other hand, the problem of waste management continues to grow. In its 2009-10, the Annual Report of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) estimated that approximately 55 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste is generated in urban areas of India annually. It is estimated that the amount of waste generated in India will increase at a rate of approximately 1-1.33% annually. Therefore, the problem will grow if adequate measures are not taken.

India is one of the fastest growing economies with 6 to 9% GDP growth per year. However, despite these achievements and claims of rapid economic development, the disparity between rich and poor is widening, and this can be seen across the country– from large urban areas to small rural ones. According to International Labor Organization (ILO), despite playing such an important role for the society and environment, waste collectors fall under the 77% of the population who earn less than Rs. 20 every day because they are not authorized to collect the waste material from the source i.e.; homes, factories, offices etc. Due to lack of recognition and authorization, waste workers suffer from atrocities by RWA’s, Policemen and Municipal Authorities. With little scope of earning, they are entangled in the web of bribery. 

In spite of their significant role in protecting our environment and saving resources for the economy, the government has never noticed them as an important economic sector. In the current Draft Rules, waste workers are noted for separating waste but not for collecting it. This is a very important step in the process of waste management within India that helps waste workers earn income.

With the 74th constitutional amendment, the government announced its intention to keep a decentralized system in India. This would give the opportunity for local governments to decide their own structures of waste management. However, through privatization and other practices, waste management in India is increasingly becoming a centralized system. This puts the job of waste management in the hands of companies that seek to concentrate wealth and are not concerned with society and the environment.
Therefore, the dangerous idea of waste to energy (WtE) plants has been promoted, in spite of the knowledge that in India it is not viable or sustainable to generate energy from Municipal Solid Waste. This is because of the properties of waste in India compared to developed countries where this method is prevalent. A recent study by Ellis Buruss shows that WtE incinerators actually waste more energy than they produce ( In 2012, an operational energy plant was set up in Okhla, Delhi to produce electricity. However, even more than three years later, this plant has not able to produce one single unit of electricity but continues to release toxic pollutants. Also it is proved that in an area where WtE plants would run there is a higher risk of diseases like cancer and infertility in women.

Given the situation, it is of utmost importance that there should be dialogue between participants to obtain different opinions on the rules. In recent times, various changes have taken place in the structure and format of waste management, its governance, and economic and financial aspects. It is for this reason that several concerned people and organisations have decided to jointly host a dialogue of various stakeholders. The dialogue would help explain the issues so that the new rules may lay the foundation for much more sustainable, inclusive, and holistic waste management system in our cities.

We call academics, researchers, institutions, policy makers, reporters, the labour, environment, urban development ministries and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, waste workers, unions, organizations and NGOs to discuss collectively and make suggestions for the inclusion of workers’ rights in the Draft Rules.

We look forward to your participation,

Shashi B. Pandit
(+91) 996 841 3109