Have you ever noticed the rag pickers who daily forage into the garbage bin near your house? They are the people responsible for cleaning most of the stuff we throw in our garbage!
Chances are you have never noticed these rag pickers, but these poorest of the poor rag pickers are the ones who not only clean our dirt but do more. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle are 3 Rs for energy conservation and environment. And the 3rd R, Recycle, is taken care of by these ragpickers!
In US and UK there are active recycling centers, where consumers come and dump their waste or a consumer’s waste is collected by recycling center. Electronic waste like LCDs and even tetrapacks are being recycled in other countries!
But India has no awareness like that. Here, recycling is taken care of by people, whom we more than often, relegate to lowest hierarchy of humanity: ragpickers and kabaris! Most ragpickers are young, little above the age to be called kids. Thousands of ragpickers as they sift through garbage unprotected, absorb toxins from the garbage. They are hunched for hours, which gives them several back and cervical problems at early age. They get numerous cuts and bites from rodents and the glass, needles and other things we carelessly throw in our garbage.
The other people involved in this recycling process other than ragpickers are: small middlemen, transporters, larger middlemen and reprocessors. Together they form recycling chain in India.
Ragpickers sell the waste to middleman called kabari. It is not easy for the rag pickers to be paid for their waste from kabaris, the kabaris want the waste completely sorted into different categories of plastics, paper, glass, metals. The rag pickers waste bag must be dry and clean so that kabaris accept it.
Delhi generates over 7000 MT waste daily. Studies estimate that these informal labour forces saves the three Municipalities a minimum of Rs. 6 lakhs daily. The meager payment rag pickers receive from kabaris is several times held back for various reasons, leaving these rag pickers hand-to-mouth. Bullies also snatch their hard-earned money. To save themselves from starvation, rag pickers end up into vicious cycle of debt. Often their earnings are held back by middlemen to cover previous loan. They are yet forced to starve! It is a scary profession.
It is sad that rag pickers who clean up our dirt and contribute to environment are harassed by both police and municipal workers. They need to bribe municipal workers to forage into garbage bin. Police, instead of protecting them, often beats them and forces them to sweep police stations and municipal offices.
What We Can Do
In US and UK, despite recycling centers that segregate waste, citizens are aware about segregation of waste at homes and work places. Whereas in India, if we were more aware about segregation of waste, these ragpickers would have less cuts, burns, backaches, allergies, dog-bites, respiratory disorders. We could be careful about throwing injurious stuff in our garbage bin.
These ragpickers are not beggars. They do the hard work. When will we recognize their effort and provide them at least basic amenities? Write in your comments if you have any ideas to work for the cause.
I also write at Visceral Observations.