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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Ahmendabad India

List of Waste Picker Groups in Ahmendabad

Waste Picker Groups (2)
KKPKP Ahmednagar
Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)

City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Santok Parmar (waste picker) and Shalini Trivedi (lawyer) from Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad. Translated by Shalini Trivedi.

Personal Story

Santok has worked with SEWA since 1996. Prior to this, she was collecting waste from the streets with others in the area. SEWA approached the group and promoted unionization as a better alternative to individual efforts.

Official Waste Management System

The seventh largest metropolis in India, Ahmedabad has 6.5 million inhabitants who currently produce an estimated 3,500 tons of waste each day. Waste generation has doubled in the last ten years. Even so, Santok tells us that until 2006 Ahmedabad had no municipal waste management system in place.The municipality approached SEWA concerning vendor problems, and the organization took the opportunity to petition for financial support of their door-to-door collection programme. SEWA set up a system of 40,000 households, serviced by 400 waste pickers. The municipal council agreed to a contract under which they would pay 10 Rs.1/household/month.Problems arose when some elected members of the municipal council saw how much money was going to the waste workers and began to move toward privatization. First, SEWA had to agree to lower the contracted price from 10Rs. to 7Rs. per household. Instead of taking waste to transfer stations, all of the waste had to go directly to the landfill, which was much further and required transport.In 2008, the municipality decided to fully privatize waste collection and all 400 waste pickers lost their jobs. The women went back to the streets to collect from other sources. SEWA filed a case in court (still ongoing) in order to require the municipality to officially integrate the women back in to the waste management system of Ahmedabad.

Informal Recycling System

SEWA began by organizing door-to-door collection in one area of the city in 2004. One of the primary challenges was that Indian families were not used to separating waste. In addition, there was a very negative perception of the waste pickers. To tackle both these issues, SEWA facilitated meetings with household women, along with society leaders to promote the importance of separating wet and dry waste. Through such trainings, SEWA worked to break down the existing caste-ism that prevented interaction between the waste generators and the waste collectors. They also encouraged the workers to wear saris and bindis when approaching household women, and practiced greetings with them. This both improved outside perception and increased the self-confidence of the workers. One of the key components of the SEWA system is fostering a strong relationship between household women and the waste pickers. They believe that, aside from creating jobs and improving the environment, the waste picking system provides an opportunity to create a more equitable society.Since privatization, SEWA has negotiated a pilot programme with the municipality in Odhay (8,000 houses) to employ women to go down small alleys and collect waste in places that are unreachable by the large collection trucks. Under the current system, the municipality pays 735 Rs./ton of waste. There is no recycling; everything is collected together (daily) and goes to one of two landfills. Trucks also collect construction debris to increase the weight of their loads, which takes work away from the waste pickers. These trucks drive through neighbourhoods and stop at designated spots, where they ring a bell and wait for people to bring waste. The workers who drive the trucks for the private companies are mostly migrant workers who are forced to live in terrible conditions. Households often pay women individually to take the waste to the centralized truck pick-up spot (there is no longer municipally-funded door-to-door collection). About 200 women work in this capacity, though funding is not secure as payment depends on the discretion of the households.

Waste Picker Organization

There are about 55,000 waste pickers in Ahmedabad, of which SEWA has organized 40,000. Though traditionally only women worked as waste pickers, men and children are now joining in. They sell to private scrap dealers (middlemen) who purchase: plastic bags, paper, iron, tin, bones, cardboard and hair. Generally waste pickers collect from 4 a.m.-8 a.m. and again in the evening. They collect for a few days, sort at home, and then take the material to the dealers.The Gitanjali Cooperative, one of two waste sector cooperatives working under the SEWA umbrella in Ahmedabad, supervised door-to-door collection prior to privatization and its efforts were highly valued. The municipality recognized the waste pickers by awarding them with a certificate, representing the highest honor bestowed upon such a group. They call themselves the “health sisters,” as they believe their work is vital to both human and environmental health. Aside from waste collection, Gitanjali is also involved with a new project to create stationery and other products. Many of those involved are children of waste pickers who want to seek out an alternative way to earn income.The second cooperative that SEWA works with, Karyasiddhi, aims to connect women directly with big companies for access to waste.

Current Central Issues

With privatization, the relationship between households and waste pickers has been severely compromised and the work SEWA had done to create equality is now all but lost, as there is no longer a respect for the role/function of the workers. Women are left to collect waste from the transfer stations, and until recently were forced to bribe the private companies for access. In addition, the landfills are now under the jurisdiction of the private companies; one is completely closed off to the waste pickers and SEWA is in the process of arranging for ID cards so the women can enter the other. There are also plans to construct a waste-to-energy incinerator.The biggest challenge for the waste workers in Ahmedabad is establishing a sustainable livelihood in the face of privatization. SEWA is working to integrate waste pickers into society and capture the attention of the municipality so they are no longer marginalized. The relationship between the municipality and the waste workers has deteriorated since privatization. The women, however, are hopeful that the pilot programme in Odhay will be expanded to provide employment for many more workers.