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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Indore India

List of Waste Picker Groups in Indore

Waste Picker Groups (1)
Jan Vikas Society

City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Suman Akodia, waste picker and entrepreneur and member of the JanVikas Society of Indore. Translated by: Rahul Gupta of the JanVikas Society of Indore

Personal Story

Suman Akodia began waste picking in her hometown of Indore 15 years ago when her husband left her and their four young children. The departure left the family in a serious crisis. Because of it, Suman’s extended family and friends treated her like an “untouchable person.” Not even her parents came forward to help, so she was left to figure out how to support a household on her own. Though Suman had experience in utensil cleaning, a kind of domestic work, it only paid a monthly salary, which made it difficult to meet her family’s daily needs – Suman needed money on a day-to-day basis in order to buy food for herself and her children. Although waste picking was a less stable option, it offered flexibility.Suman began by picking up waste from the roadsides and selling to small shopkeepers who then would sell to other middlemen. One day about eight years ago, Suman went waste picking in the early morning. Pigs were eating from the container where she was collecting, eventually chasing her from the garbage. As she ran from the pigs, she disrupted a newly built wall, which fell on her. She was lying unconscious for several hours. When she gained consciousness, her leg was badly hurt and she had to crawl 2 km to her home. She was bleeding, but did not have enough money for a doctor. The very next day, despite great pain and swelling, Suman went picking because she had no other way to feed her children.In 2005, after representatives from the society visited her slum, she joined the JanVikas Society of Indore. JanVikas is a non-profit that works for the improvement of marginalized people, including waste pickers.Recently, Suman started a small scrap shop with the help of her children, now between the ages of 15 and 23. She saved some money (individually, not through the cooperative) and began sorting the scrap in a 600 square foot shed with a galvanized metal roof. Though she rented the space initially, she eventually bought it. She also purchased mechanical and electronic scales, though she is illiterate and relies on her children to read the electronic scales.The family business sells recyclables on to middlemen, who operate in a fairly sophisticated market in which the rates paid for different recyclables change every day. When the shop has enough materials to package in bulk, she calls the wholesalers on her son’s cell phone to get the pricing. The eldest son and the youngest son work with her, and her middle son drives an auto rickshaw to transport the goods. Suman paid the down payment on the vehicle and her son pays installments as well as the diesel expenses.In terms of education for her children, Suman’s two sons have reached 7th standard each, one has cleared 10th standard. Her daughter is currently in 8th standard. She sent her two boys to a Hindi medium private school. Her third son was admitted in an English medium private school. Her daughter attends a renowned school in the area. She pays a fee of Rs.10,000 per year for education.Last year, she was having regular pain in that leg and had an x-ray taken. The doctor discovered that she had had multiple fractures in her leg as a result of the incident with the pigs.Though Suman still operates as an informal waste picker, the addition of the small scrap shop has been very good for her family’s finances. Her two eldest sons are married and she has twin grandsons. The entire family lives together under one roof. Suman believes the waste pickers need to work hard as she did, to improve their situations.

Official Waste Management System

Indore has both a landfill and a recycling plant. There is door-to-door collection of waste, mostly done by formal and informal sweepers. A private company transports waste to the landfill, as well as managing the landfill. All non-recyclable waste goes to a landfill. Labourers with pushcarts collect recyclable waste.The city has plans to use incineration for its inorganic waste. At the landfill, they are going to separate organic and inorganic waste. With the inorganic waste, they will begin incineration or waste-to-energy within a year or so. Construction on the plant has already begun.

Informal Recycling System

In Indore, there are 7,500-8,000 informal waste pickers in the city earning more or less Rs.100 per day (less than US $2). The waste pickers go out to collect at around 4 a.m. and are done at about 1 p.m. Suman picks waste from the street garbage bins, but she does not go to the landfill.There is not much of a relationship between informal waste pickers and the municipality. Unofficially, families have carved up the city into informal waste-collection territories. The families claim rights to the waste and recyclables within their area and use physical intimidation to exclude unaffiliated waste pickers. The “owners” of specific territories charge Rs.10-20 to pick up garbage from the ground in specific territories, even to collect from public garbage cans. Suman relayed stories of these families burning a day’s worth of collected waste if a waste picker had not paid for the right to collect within a certain area.In 2007, the municipal corporation initiated a pilot project with waste pickers for door-to-door collection. The municipality gave them identity cards and allowed waste pickers to collect the recyclable materials. However, the pilot project ended after a few months because it conflicted with the pre-existing system of families who had claimed the waste picking rights in an area. Suman was not part of the group that was integrated in the pilot project by the municipality.Suman collects waste in an area of 10-15 km per day, carrying recyclables in a big sack on her back. The waste pickers collect a variety of recyclables – three different kinds of plastic bags, plastic articles like tumblers and food containers, glass, water bottles, metal, paper and cardboard. They get the highest price for metal. The second most valuable form of waste is plastic – specifically high-density polyethylene and polypropylene.

Waste Picker Organization

There are two waste picker advocacy groups in Indore: 1) JanVikas Society of Indore and 2) a for-profit microfinance organization that is working in the slums.JanVikas is a NGO that works for the rights of marginalized people, particularly unorganized labourers, waste pickers, unemployed youth, and migrants. JanVikas has established a cooperative society of 1,650 individuals. They offer savings and loans at low interest and insurance (health, accident, and life). They also try to work with the public authorities, though the authorities are not very interested in working with waste pickers. However, after a recent, national-level meeting on unfair labour practices, there has been some positive signs – KKPKP and SWaCH (the waste pickers’ union and its worker-owned cooperative in Pune, India) have gotten some good publicity and the public authority knows that it is mandatory to integrate waste pickers into the stream.

Current Central Issues

There are a variety of threats to waste pickers now. They are harassed by street boys, as well as physically intimidated by territorial families. Suman is often cut by glass or metal. Also dog bites and pig bites are problems, especially because if harmed, most waste pickers do not have the money to get medical treatment.Suman would like to see a very organized waste picking cooperative established in Indore. She would like to see a centralized work station for sorting. She would also like waste pickers to receive identity card, uniforms, boots, and gloves.