Wastepickers on the Frontline of Climate Mitigation
In India, people who gather recyclable materials are known as wastepickers. Although wastepickers form the backbone of recycling in India, they are largely low-caste, poor, and marginalized, doing unsteady work in subhuman conditions.
The materials are brought to a recovery facility, where they are separated and sold to recycling mills.
Wastepickers have uniforms and identification cards, and collect waste from trash containers or directly from the
caterers. They are able to earn formally throughout the year, and are protected from the routine abuse they
Helping the planet
Enhanced recycling prevents greenhouse gas emissions that would have been produced to extract raw materials, which are also preserved. Items that would have rotted in landfills are reused, preventing further emissions such as methane from the decomposition process. Since the waste is not burned, greenhouse gases such as CO2 and dioxins have also been prevented. Better handling of solid waste also reduces pollution from litter.
Wastepickers are typically treated like the waste they pick, especially due to the fact that most are low-caste or Muslim. But through the formalization of the sector, this highly marginalized urban group has gained dignity and respect. These people are now able to earn a steady living, and can better provide for their families. They are also better able to access available social security and public health schemes. Their waste-gathering activities have improved sanitation at the New Delhi train station, preventing the spread of disease and creating a more pleasant environment for all who visit.
The Delhi’s Cooling Agents model is applicable to at least 35 per cent of railway stations in India. The activity is highly modular, making it adaptable to other applications, as well. It’s also well documented, which allows for easy replication. The fact that it is low-cost and financially self-sustaining makes it easy to scale up in a low-resource context. Since project inception, the railway agency has replicated the model at three other train stations.
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