Though informal waste pickers are a crucial cog in the solid waste management wheel, they remain virtually “invisible”, and face discrimination owing to the nature of their work. With the aim to improve the lives of waste pickers in the city, eight non-profit organisations have joined forces to launch Saamuhika Shakti, a multi-year project. The project, funded by Sweden-based H&M Foundation, follows the collective impact approach. For the first three years, the foundation has committed $11 million, with scope for extending it for another three years.
- Higher and more stable income
- Improved and safer working conditions
- Ability to move to alternative professions, if they desire
- Access to affordable, quality services from public and private sector
- Established support systems for victims of domestic violence and substance abuse
- Respect and recognition of their work from citizens, and pride in the role they play in the waste value chain
The core component of the project is gender equity and equitable access for women, girls, and other vulnerable groups. As per data, there are around 22,500 waste pickers, including informal waste collectors, sorters in dry waste collection centres, and scrap shops, and itinerant waste buyers.
At the launch on Wednesday, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad said the need of the hour was to support waste pickers’ livelihood and improve their quality of life. He stressed on the need to integrate efforts of various departments and create awareness about the many schemes that the waste pickers may benefit from, be it housing, drinking water, etc.
With the civic body mandating that waste pickers will have exclusive rights to handle dry waste in all wards, the BBMP will soon have a robust dry waste management system, he said, and added that currently, 168 wards have DWCCs. To facilitate dry waste collection, three vehicles per ward would be provided. To begin with, this has been done in 18 wards. The BBMP has floated a tender for the procurement of 600 vehicles, run either on electricity or CNG. “In wards where there are no vehicles yet, we are giving the waste pickers ₹56,000 per vehicle,” he said.
A panel discussion on the role of waste pickers, ways to integrate them into the formal waste picker ecosystem, and challenges of integration saw participation from BBMP’s Special Commissioner (SWM) D. Randeep, co-founder of Hasiru Dala Nalini Shekar, and Bharti Dewan from the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives.
Ms. Shekar, who was instrumental in getting the civic body to issue identity cards to waste pickers in 2011, said informal waste pickers reduce the cost of SWM. She emphasised how their skills and knowledge with respect to different waste streams are of tremendous value to the SWM ecosystem.
The non-profit organisations that have come together for the Saamuhika Shakti project are BBC Media Action, CARE, Hasiru Dala, LabourNet, Save the Children, Social Alpha, WaterAid, and The/Nudge Foundation.