List of Waste Picker Groups in Bangalore
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City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker
Conversation with: Raja, a waste picker with Hasiru Dala (waste picking cooperative) and Marwan Abubaker, Project Manager with Radio-Active (Community Radio).
From invisible to visible, building the strength to speak up: “I'm proud to be a waste picker” --Raja – Waste picker, Hasiru Dala
Official Waste Management SystemWith an estimated population of 6 million, Bangalore is among the five largest cities in India. The municipal waste management system in Bangalore is centralized and vertically integrated. Private contractors have been contracted to collect and dispose unsorted waste from 80-90 per cent of households, which consists of an estimated 3,500 tons a day, 72 per cent of which is organic waste. While there are two landfill sites (Mandur and Mavalipura, 40 km and 50 km from the city, respectively) a large fraction of the city’s waste never makes it to the official dumpsites and instead is disposed of in about 60 known informal dumpsites in and around Bangalore. Describing the phenomenon which occurs when private companies are paid per tons of disposed waste, Marwan explained, “Privatization has distorted waste management in Bangalore as it works under the assumption that more waste equals more money. Therefore there is no incentive for segregation at source.” Consequently, the official system’s recycling rates are low, barely extracting even 10 per cent of recyclable trash from waste that goes to landfill.
Informal Recycling SectorAn unseen army of more than 15,000 waste pickers (other sources estimate that there are up to 25,000 waste pickers in and around Bangalore) carry out an informal recycling effort in Bangalore. Previously barred from accessing waste at the household level, for the most part these eco-workers collect and segregate recyclable waste in Bangalore’s streets and landfills. Working and living conditions are poor for these urban workers, resulting in an average income of about 150-200Rs. a day (the equivalent of US $2.71-3.62).
Waste Picker OrganizationIn 2009, 11 organizations and individuals came together and formed Bangalore’s Solid Waste Management Roundtable (SWMRT – website: www.swmrt.com). Through public hearings in the High Court, Lok Adalat, SWMRT has managed to lobby for decentralized waste management, including raising citizens’ awareness to accomplish segregation at source. In 2011, with the support of the SWMRT, the waste pickers founded a cooperative, called Hasiru Dala, a city-wide waste picking organization which was launched with more than 200 members. Hasiru Dala then worked with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the government body responsible for civic activity and infrastructure, and with Lok Adalat to provide identity cards to 2,000 waste pickers in January 2012; their goal is to ultimately provide up to 5,000 waste pickers with identity cards. Raja explains that the cooperative successfully improved waste pickers’ working conditions in collaboration with the municipality. As stated above, their first successful achievement was the provision of identity cards, which made waste pickers into legal service providers officially recognized by the municipality. Next, Hasiru Dala broke into groups and began to run five Dry-Waste Collection and Recycling Centres. In summary, the cooperatives’ strategy was to initially raise awareness among residents in a particular neighbourhood, demanding segregation at source (recyclable and non-recyclables). Once collected, the waste is brought to a sorting center to be further segregated by the waste pickers into more than 10 varieties of recyclable materials, which are then sold to recycling industry. Marwan, from the community radio called Radio-Active CR 90.4 MHz adds “before the municipality did not focus on the segregation at source. With Hasiru Dala’s pilot projects, the cooperative has demonstrated that waste pickers, if integrated into the system, can simultaneously improve their lives and achieve high recycling rates.” This pilot project has provided the following benefits:
- legal recognition for 2,000 waste pickers including through provision of identity cards, which helped to stop harassment (in particular by the police) and provided both self-respect and respect from the society;
- segregation at source, assuring safer working conditions and better quality material and greater levels of recycling
- a space for proper segregation and storage, which has allowed the workers to obtain higher rates for the materials, as they can directly sell to the recycling industry, reducing the number of intermediates.
Current Central IssuesRaja, who wants the cooperative to grow, explained, “We need to offer waste pickers better opportunities. We do hard but honest work with which we provide a livelihood to our families. That is why we do the work better than anyone else, the more we recycle the more we earn. Meanwhile we contribute to keep the city clean and reduce the pollution. In the future, I want to start a composting project. Now the organic waste is dumped and creates pollution, while instead we could contribute to the environment by growing plants and trees.” The cooperative is rapidly growing. Its objective is to eventually cover one out of the eight city zones. Although the land and infrastructure for the sorting centers are provided by the municipality, some initial sponsor support is still needed to cover costs before the cooperative becomes completely autonomous. Marwan goes on to express a common concern of waste pickers the world over. “It was all going super well until we learned about a waste-to-energy incinerator which is being planned by the municipal government. We feel that there is no need for a new technology, which pollutes and burns up recyclable material that can provide income to waste pickers.”