How many times have you stopped to thank those who collect waste from the street you live in each day? Sadly, very few of us notice these silent workers, whose work is not recognised as long as things work well, until the one day they don’t clear our refuse. They are the countless invisible faces that ensure our cities, roads and homes remain clean.
Despite providing such a vital service, without which we would choke on our own waste, most of them are irregular wage earners and have no access to structured welfare.
This gap forced Nalini Sekhar, a resident of Bengaluru, to found Hasiru Dala six years ago. Meaning Green Brigade in Kanada, it is a not-for-profit organisation that ensures waste pickers have social security and that they are included in the dialogue on social waste management.
Walk the talk
Way before the waste management rules came into being, Nalini was working with waste pickers. In 1993, seven years before the law on solid waste management came into being, she spoke to waste pickers in Pune about waste segregation.
Speaking to The Better India, she recalls, “I had moved to Pune after I got married, and was working at SNDT University in the adult education department. We understood that the waste pickers were perhaps one of the most vulnerable sections of the society and wanted to make a difference in their lives.”
Another thing that pushed her involvement with the waste pickers was the sheer number of children who were part of this large, informal workforce.
For Nalini and her friends, Lakshmi and Purnima, it wasn’t just a project. She was in her 20s when she began to spend hours with waste pickers each day, eating and chatting with them, even doing the job with them. She shares, “We felt that their work was phenomenal, and yet, they remained invisible.”
Along with all the lessons, there were quite a few adventures. They learned about the different kinds of waste picking, one of which was the picking of industrial waste. Nalini recalls, “We were picking up scraps at an industrial area once when the industry workers came out screaming and yelling at us, demanding to know what we were gathering. We ran out of there for our safety! That’s just the beginning of how hard their lives are, and for so little that they get in return.”
She adds, “I saw how vulnerable, yet resilient they were. They would fight everything from dogs, pigs, police officers, and citizens, just to continue their work. Nothing fazed them, and I drew a lot of energy from that.”
What is Hasiru Dala?
She carried her passion to Bengaluru, where she continued interacting with local waste pickers. “We told them how they were all silent environmentalists, helping save so much money for local governments or municipal bodies.”
It was during one of these interactions that they expressed the desire to be called a green force or Hasiru Dala. It was a name that came from them, Nalini points out.
Since its inception in 2011, the organisation has impacted more than 10,000 waste pickers, meeting about 4,000 waste picker families each week.
Engaging with the families is key to ensure that their children don’t become part of the workforce, but instead, preserve their childhood.
Nalini says, “We would go to their homes and convince the parents that with better opportunities, they would not have to send their children out to do the same work. After a lot of persuading, the parents agreed, and when they saw that their livelihoods could be better, they were more optimistic about the chance at better lives for their children.”
Here’s what they do
According to the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000, every household is required to segregate their waste. The workers at Hasiru Dala collect the segregated waste and bring it back to their processing units, where all that is collected, is sorted and sent out for further processing.
The waste workers in Bengaluru collect segregated waste (dry, wet and sanitary) and transport it to designated processing units—a process which brings down the amount of waste that gets sent to landfills as well.
About 1,050 tonnes of dry or recyclable waste goes to those who wish to buy and use it for various recycling industries.
The wet or organic waste is converted to compost for urban gardens and parks. Lastly, sanitary waste goes through safe and scientific incineration.
On average, Nalini shares that the workers at Hasiru Dala help the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) save almost Rs 84 crores annually. In return for their labour, the organisation has ensured that waste pickers are recognised and have a place in society. For if they stopped doing their jobs, our cities would drown under the mounds of garbage piling up everywhere.
How do they work with waste pickers?
Hasiru Dala endeavours to make the waste pickers self-reliant and become entrepreneurs. “The ideal situation is to have a clean world where we do not even need waste pickers. In that scenario, we must find alternates for them and make them self-reliant.”
In this regard, they produce a ‘product-compost kit’ which is hand-delivered to the customer’s house by the waste pickers.
Through a simple interaction of setting up the product and explaining its working, a new social equation is formed between the waste picker and the consumer, which helps the former in generating a livelihood.
Speaking about another initiative, Nalini says, “In collaboration with Jain University and Waste Wise Trust, we have developed a Scrap Dealer Certification programme, a one-of-its-kind training programme which has lent credibility to 7,000 waste pickers in Bengaluru for their work.” She adds that they were all issued identity cards by the state.
With plans of expanding to tier-2 and other cities, Nalini hopes to replicate the model across the country.
For more information about the organisation and its initiatives, visit their website here.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)