Environmental entrepreneurship program for urban poor women – India
This project is giving poor women of Mumbai a new chance by training them to become professional
recyclers. “Environmental entrepreneurship program for urban poor women” is providing
jobs to disadvantaged populations while improving management of waste in India’s largest
- 600 women employed through cooperatives
- Five tons composted daily; biomethanation, where the waste is converted to biogas, performed
- More than 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent reduced annually
Solid waste is a huge problem in India – lack of official waste management allows trash to pile up,
causing pollution and sanitation problems. Such waste is responsible for more than 3 per cent of greenhouse
gas emissions in the country. Recycling in India is largely taken up by waste-pickers who are usually
low-caste, poor and at the margins of society. They end up working in unhygienic conditions with irregular
income, or exploited by vested interests.
“Environmental entrepreneurship program for urban poor women” taps a network of waste-picker
cooperatives from the women’s organization Stree Mukti Sanghatana, providing
organizational infrastructure for female recyclers. Economically disadvantaged women are trained in
composting, fine sorting, gardening and biomethanation, then offered work in waste collection, sale of
recyclables or generation of biogas or compost.
The network helps women’s cooperatives negotiate waste management contracts with residential,
industrial, educational and commercial entities. It connects women waste-pickers with health and social
security schemes, along with an official work identification card system. The project is also providing
women with life coaching and leadership training, and youth with educational assistance.
Helping the planet
Recycling is by nature environmentally friendly, as it decreases pollution while reducing demand for
extraction of new resources at the same time. Composting transforms organic trash into a valuable resource
that enriches degraded soil, also increasing its water retention. Mining methane from biodegradable waste
turns trash into an alternative fuel, preventing it from entering the atmosphere and contributing to
Formalizing the recycling sector in Mumbai has provided new opportunities for primarily illiterate
waste-picker women. These jobs have improved their lives through reliable wages, fixed working hours, and a
weekly holiday. The project has allowed women from marginalized groups to avoid being passive victims of
poverty, and has helped them chart new paths of growth and empowerment.
The project started with 100 women waste-pickers and 10 groups in city of Mumbai, and can now boast at
least 3,000 women members in four cities. A public education campaign continues to spread awareness for
better recycling practices. The project can be replicated among urban poor in other cities lacking waste
management infrastructure – indeed, non-governmental organizations have expressed interest in
supporting similar project in three other cities.
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