India, a country of 1.3 billion people and obvious high use of plastic, is not one among the top ten plastic polluters in the world!
According to The Economist, eight out of the top ten pollution polluters in the world are developing nations from Asia. But India is not one of them.
The reason? Our rag pickers!
Yes, our human force of rag pickers has beat the technological advancement of several Asian countries to take India out of the top ten polluting countries. The Economist has gone ahead to suggest developing countries like Bangladesh to adopt our model of an army of waste pickers to manage plastic waste.
Here’s how India could manage its waste without expensive technology and what the government is planning to do next.
Ideally, the problem of waste management should never reach the rag pickers. It should be segregated as dry, wet and electronic waste at the source itself. The source, of course, is your own homes and offices. However, presently that is not the reality and the rag pickers, willingly or unwillingly, taken upon themselves to do the needful.
In a bid to earn some extra cash, our rag pickers or Kachrawalas, segregate things from our garbage that can be sold to kabadiwallas. This is the first step that helps India manage a big part of her waste.
They may also pick up stuff from our garbage that can be used in their own homes- an example of recycling.
After all, a slightly cynical counter-argument to segregation at the source could be that we are preventing kachrawalas from earning an extra buck or recycling things for their benefit.
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Chintan is an environmental research non-profit organisation that researched the nature of Delhi’s waste. According to them, about 15-20% of Delhi’s waste is recycled by kachrawalas, saving the municipalities a massive Rs 1 crore every day!
This comes as pleasant news when compared to the world’s statistics of recycling just 9% of the 8 billion tonnes of plastic recycled since the 1950s.
It comes as no news that rag pickers have to live with stench, severe health hazards and through someone else’s trash and yet, the monetary compensation for them is a meagre couple of thousand rupees every month.
Taking this into account, and showing respect to the importance of the kachrawalas’ jobs, the Central government has vowed to improve their living and working conditions in April 2016. Under this project, rules set by the Management of Solid Waste (MSW) have been adopted by all states.
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The project resolves to integrate rag pickers into a formal system of garbage collection. Local bodies are responsible for registering them, provide them with ID cards as also take steps to improve their work settings by setting aside space for material recovery and storage facilities. Rag pickers are also to be paid a reasonable pay collected from households and commercial spaces for their service.
Under the scheme, any person who hands over the garbage produced in their space is liable to segregate waste before giving it to the rag pickers.
Marginalised, ignored rag pickers have successfully extracted India from the top ten plastic polluters, even with a disadvantageous population. It’s high time we contribute to their efforts too.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)