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Environmental Entrepreneurship Program for Urban Poor Women

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 metropolis.

Fast facts:

  • 600 women employed through cooperatives
  • Five tons composted daily; biomethanation, where the waste is converted to biogas, performed daily
  • More than 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent reduced annually

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The problem

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.

The solution

“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 climate change.

Helping people

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.

Spillover effect

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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