There are thousands who make a living by segregating dry waste

Sitting in the dry waste collection centre (DWCC) near the Lingarajpuram flyover, Lakshmi P. (48), a waste picker, is busying segregating plastic bottles, cartons and milk sachets. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she continues with compressing plastic bottles and stuffing them into a gunny bag.

Today, Lakshmi runs the DWCC at Sagayapuram ward. In doing so, she draws from 27 long years of experience as a rag picker. So, even as civic authorities and citizens grapple to understand and work with the nitty-gritty of garbage segregation, she points out that thousands like her have been working in this informal sector for years. “We learnt to execute this long before the palike did,” she says.

The DWCC here is staffed by Hasiru Dala, an NGO that has been entrusted the job by another NGO Grace, which has signed an MoU with the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).

Before we begin the interview, she insists that we see the records she has maintained in multiple books. These records pertain to the garbage segregated in 27 apartments in her ward. Up until a month ago, Lakshmi recalls how her work day involved roaming the streets near Banaswadi desperately looking for some “treasure” in the mounds of garbage piled up in street corners. Her job now is more streamlined as she only has to come to the DWCC and segregate the dry waste brought here before selling it to scrap dealers. “Earlier I would walk around the neighbourhood hoping to find some scrap in piles of garbage. But, now people come to me and give me their waste. Everything has changed. But most importantly, my job now gives me respect and dignity.”

No vehicles

Lakshmi and other waste pickers at the DWCCs across the city earn Rs. 200 a day, which is supplemented by selling the segregated waste. Although the working conditions have changed for Lakshmi, she says that they continue to face several hurdles at work. “Every Thursday, along with my friend, I collect around 150 kg of dry waste and we have to physically carry it back to the DWCC. This is tiring. It would help if the BBMP gives us a loan or a subsidy to buy a vehicle.”

About her ambitious business venture, she says she dreams to make ward 60 (Sagayapuram) a zero-garbage ward. “And if my business works well, I am even willing to pay income tax,” she signs off with optimism and hope in her eyes.

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