One of the most pressing issues in the waste management sector is the immense exploitation of the majority of the members who are a part of this sector. This exploitation is facilitated by the fact that the waste management sector in India today is largely informal. We at Saahas Zero Waste are developing a new model of social inclusion, which aims to bring the informal actors in the waste management sector into the formal economy.
Why is there a need to develop such a model? It is because, apart from the exploitation that they face, most actors in the waste management sector face a severe lack of identity, recognition, acknowledgement, appreciation, and basic human rights. Most do not have any social security as they do not have bank accounts and are forced to depend upon unpredictable cash flows. They are not made aware of the best practices of waste management, and there are no compliance with minimum wage, working hours, health and safety, and other basic rules and regulations.
Our social inclusion project aims to address these issues first by creating a sense of identity and introducing motivational factors such as defined waste collection goals and reward systems. We are working towards spreading awareness on the best waste management practices and creating infrastructure for the exchange of knowledge and resources. We also ensure compliance with basic work ethics such as minimum wage, no child labor, and safety regulations.
Hasan is a young micro-entrepreneur from Bengaluru who works as a thekedar at a waste picker colony, and is the first individual who we are working with under our social inclusion project. With our help, he hopes that he, and the people who work under him, can move from the highly informal economy they are embedded in to a fully formal economy.
During an interview with us, he discusses the most critical issues present in the informal waste management sector, where waste pickers only pick up materials that bring them money and increase their profits. If there are waste materials that do not bring any money, there is no incentive to pick it up. The unfortunate result of this is that only high value waste is recycled enthusiastically while waste that has low or negative value is often not recycled at all. He asks that companies compensate for the waste hey have generated by paying to get it off the streets. Unless this is done, there is no incentive for waste pickers to sort and manage waste that does not bring them any value.
At an event organised by Tata Global Beverage Limited in celebration of Work Environment Day, Hasan gave a speech for all the employees of the company. During his speech, he detailed out the disadvantages of mixed waste and the health hazards it poses for the waste pickers who sort and manage it. He appealed to the audience to segregate their waste, not on because it increases the chances of it being reused and recycled, but also because it is better for the health of those who manage it.
Our social inclusion project not only reduces the exploitation faced by the actors within the waste management sector in India, it also aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals of the international community and ensures safe and dignified conditions of employment.