Role of Waste Pickers in Solid Waste Management in Mumbai Essay
Role of Waste Pickers in Solid Waste Management in Mumbai Nilesh Patil M. Sc. , M. Phil. Touch N’ Glow Common Bio-medical waste treatment & disposal facility Palghar, Dist. Thane, Maharashtra Prologue Currently about three quarters of the global population growth is occurring in the urban areas of the developing world, causing ‘hyper growth’ in cities not equipped to deal with this situation (UNCHS, 2001).
As such over 300 million urban poor in the cities of the developing world live in extreme poverty, “with fewer options but to live in squalid, unsafe environments and facing multiple threats to their health and security” (World Bank, 1999, p. 1). Despite the fact that cities, even those in the developing world, in the present era of globalization, have emerged as significant actors in the global economic and political arena, generating more opportunities, yet urban poverty continues to persist and is infact growing as trends indicate.
India is the country with the highest concentration of poverty in the world with about 320 million people, (35%) of the total population falling below the government’s official poverty line. The Human Development Report 2005 puts India at 127th rank in a list of 177 countries and in context of Human Poverty Index, India is ranked 58th in the list of 103 developing countries.
The growing incidence and concentration of urban poverty in Indian cities is indicative of the fact that the policies and programmes of the governments have not really been able to target and alleviate poverty owing to a number of reasons including the failure to understand the multidimensional nature of poverty. The issue of urban poverty is intricately related to waste (Gupta,2004).
This statement indeed throws light on two aspects, one the fact that most urban poor live in deplorable conditions and second the fact that in developing countries and in urban India in particular more then a million urban poor(ibid)) find livelihood by engaging in waste collection and recycling activities within the preview of the informal sector and in a way are responsible for managing an average of about 15 to 20% of the city’s recyclable wastes that would otherwise add to the existing piles of waste and cause havoc given the current state of the formal municipal solid waste management status in our cities.
Popularly known as Rag pickers this segment of urban poor is one of the most disadvantaged communities and are the poorest of the poor as also a very vulnerable segment of the population, vulnerable to health hazards due to their scavenging activities as well as vulnerable to exploitation and social stigma. Despite their significant role in waste management in a city, this group enjoys no recognition, no job security or any form of social welfare safety net. This invisible section of the society is not the target of welfare schemes and policies of the government.
Their livability is a stark reflection of the harshness and the vicious circle of poverty that inflicts them. In context of this backdrop the study is an attempt to understand the multi dimensional nature of poverty and its impacts on livability taking the case of the rag pickers in Mumbai. The intention is also to highlight the role of the rag picker as sine-qua-non to a city’s waste management in the third world. The analysis of the multi dimensional nature is done within the preview of Amartya Sen’s five freedoms (Political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunity, transparency guarantees and protective security).
However before analyzing the poverty issues, the following write-up broadly underlines the waste management scene in our current urban setup with the purpose of understanding the occupational character and the role of the rag picker in city’s waste management. India’s waste management scenario Despite the presence of legal rules and regulations framed by the government from time to time and also some commendable but small scale initiatives taken by some Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), NGOs and individuals, the Indian waste management scene continues to be extremely grim.
As per estimates(CPCB 2000 and FICCI 2005) Urban India currently produces about 36. 5 million tones of waste and this figure is expected to touch an astounding 300 million tones given the current spate in the consumption patterns and materialistic lifestyles of the ‘haves’ which has accelerated the per capita consumption and consequently waste generation. From a current per capita rate of 490 grams this is expected to touch 945 grams by 2047.
Thus modern urban living has brought on the problem of waste which is increasing in quality and changes in composition with every passing day. However the waste collection and disposal mechanisms of the ULBs continue to be equally alarming. Given the current state of affairs it is estimated that only between 30-60% (Rousse,2006)of the municipal solid waste generated in Indian cities is actually collected and disposed off by the ULBs. Another study (Medina,et. al, 2002) mentions a collection rate of just 50% in urban India.
Out of this collected waste only a fraction i. e. 7% is recycled through composting or WTE (waste to energy) measures and the rest 93% inclusive of the recyclable dry waste find their way into the dumping sites where they are then rummaged by the rag pickers. These rag pickers are a vital part of the informal waste recycling sector and in a way contribute to improving the city environs and aiding the ULBs in waste management in our cities though one might argue that this unintentional contribution is primarily due to economic compulsions.
India’s largest cities, the city of Mumbai has about 85000 rag pickers while the estimates in Delhi are put at 1 lakh. Infact scavenging and rag picking activities are estimated to save a Class I city of the developing world at least US$ 23 million (ibid) annually due to lower import of raw materials and reduced expenditure of the ULB on waste collection and disposal. Rousse(2006) mentions that in case of Delhi, the rag pickers, assuming that each earns about an average of Rs 50/day as a workforce have a daily turnover of Rs 50 lakh.
Thus the informal waste management sector saves municipality considerable funds that would be needed to manage the waste currently handled by the informal operations. Thus though the informal sector operations are crucial to the waste management scene in Urban India yet the services provided by this sector is poorly understood or acknowledged and it ends up being projected as illegal and illicit and being looked down upon. The rag picker being at the bottom of the rung of the informal sector waste recycling operations is the biggest sufferer economically as well as socially.
Given the current trends of the move towards privatization of the solid waste management in Indian cities along with options of adoption of western management models and with no approach to integrate the informal sector operations into these neo-models, the rag picker community faces a severe danger of loosing this informal occupation as well. Rag pickers in Urban India; An overview The rag pickers can be described as important stakeholders in the waste recycling process as their presence allows for a very thorough recovery of recyclables.
However these stakeholders earn very low returns particularly women and children who are usually economically exploited by the small and medium scale scrap dealers. A study conducted by the Garbage Farming and Rag picking Institute of Wetland Management and Ecological Design Kolkata observed that 44% of the rag pickers earned upto Rs 8/day, 13% earned Rs13 or a little more and the rest 43% earned between 25 and 40 Rs per day.
Another study (Agape, 2004) finds the earnings to be between Rs 15-20/day while the more experienced ones earned between Rs 25-40/day. A majority of the rag pickers enter this occupation to escape chronic rural poverty as also due to lack of skills required in other occupations. For most first time rural to urban migrants rag picking is often the only informal occupation that can absorb them and give them a small economic respite to survive.
Perhaps no other informal occupational setup can be described as more health hazardous as that of the rag pickers. These rag pickers delve through garbage dumps and landfill sites to collect recyclable materials but in the process are exposed to non segregated hazardous wastes and gases from the landfills that lead to major health impairments in them. A study of health issues amongst rag pickers in Delhi by Ray et. al (2004) concluded that 94% suffered from various forms of respiratory disorders, 52% also suffered from lung infection.
The prevalence of diarrhea, dermatitis, scabies and other skin infections, musco skeletal diseases, infections from direct contact with contaminated materials, cuts and puncture wounds leading to tetanus, hepatitis or even HIV infection, headaches and nausea caused from anoxic conditions. Infact a serious side effect of the waste handling is that the filthy nature of work demotivates the rag pickers to take good care of their own personal hygiene making them more susceptible then they already are.
In addition to economic hardships the rag pickers face severe social stigma wherein people see them as a class of untouchables, antisocial elements and subject them to harassment, discrimination and seclusion. Studies reveal that a majority of them have faced some form of harassment by the police or the economically better strata. Besides public policy too has been considering scavenging more or less as a nuisance or a problem to be eliminated. As such all solid waste management proposals entirely overlook the poor rag pickers.
For instance the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2000 that provide a framework for the ULBs for waste management, while highlighting the importance of waste recycling and directing the ULB to undertake the same by involving people in at source segregation but fails to mention or direct the ULB to integrate or work in partnership with the informal waste management sector to ensure a higher rate of waste collection and recycling in pursuit of the broader objective of zero waste and healthy cities.
Thus in the absence of any support the rag pickers continue to live in severe poverty conditions marked by high levels of exploitation and deprivation. As mentioned earlier, there have been some isolated cases wherein the NGOs are playing an important role in getting the services of the rag pickers recognized and working towards their upliftment within the same occupational sector. The Stree Mukti Sanghatana, an NGO in Mumbai is running programmes to help rag pickers overcome their disadvantages by organizing savings and credits, literacy classes, etc.
Incase of Hyderabad the Jubilee Hills Exnora Residents Association has employed rag pickers to collect waste in their area wherein the rag pickers have the security of a regular income as well as retain access to waste and earn money from its recycling as well. Therefore the JHE has been able to make a difference in their lives by providing avenue for upward economic mobility to a small group of rag pickers.
A good example of a ULB taking initiative comes from Pune wherein 3650 rag pickers are registered with the Pune Municipal Corporation as authorized official waste collectors and have also been assured health insurance. However it is observed that these commendable initiatives are few and far between and so is the number of rag picker beneficiaries. From the review of the rag pickers based upon various sources and studies some conclusions emerge.
Firstly the rag pickers by and large come from very poor and primarily rural background consistent with the character of chronic poverty. Secondly the waste collection and recycling occupation provides immediate absorption and a route for modest upward economic mobility for these chronic rural poor seeking works in urban areas. Thirdly these rag pickers are a highly vulnerable group susceptible to health risk and impairment that is bound to impose a greater economic burden on them.
Fourthly in the absence of any formal support and a primarily capitalist driven economy, proposals and subsequent privatization of the entire solid waste system in a city is anticipated to be the biggest threat to their very livelihood and existence. Aim Involving rag pickers in the process of solid waste management by incorporating the employment needs of the urban poor and migrants with adequate attention to the occupational health aspects of these people. Objectives ? To study socio-economic profile and occupational health hazards of rag pickers in Mumbai. To assess the role of rag pickers in the process of solid waste management. Methodology Secondary Data Collection: Secondary information will be collected using recent work in solid waste management in Mumbai and other area. Government initiatives and policies in the aspect of employment opportunities of the urban poor with minimum wage rate for comparative analysis of rag pickers income with other unskilled workers in the study area, and management of the huge quantum of waste generated in Mumbai from municipal corporation office and state pollution control board office.
Primary Data Collection: The Municipal solid waste collected from 24 wards of Mumbai Municipal Corporation is disposed off at the landfill site at Deonar, Mulund and Gorai as mere dumping and leveling. The study will make use of the database of rag pickers present at these dumping sites by categorizing them as follows: ? Men rag pickers: This category is further divide into two types on the basis of age group • Men rag pickers having age group 18yrs and below and • Men rag pickers having age group 18yrs and above Women rag pickers: This category is further divide into two types on the basis of age group • Women rag pickers having age group 18yrs and below and • Women rag pickers having age group 18yrs and above Sample Size: 250 Samples will be selected from each type of category from three dumping sites. Database will be collected from each of the sample using questionnaire survey and open ended interviews between 10am to 4pm assuming preferable time for waste collection by rag pickers.
The questions will be selected in such a way that the respondent feels easy while answering and at the same time ensuring various information on quantity of different types of waste collected, income from waste collection, working condition and health hazards such as injuries in form of cuts and bruises, injuries from medical waste, injuries caused by animals, air borne diseases, chemical poisoning and other diseases, household profile, economic opportunity, social opportunity, protective security, political freedom, transparency guarantees.
Solid waste management in Mumbai Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is responsible for solid waste management in Mumbai city. Apart from MCGM there are other important agents who play their part in overall scheme of solid waste management in the city. They are private sweepers and garbage collectors employed by the people for cleaning privately owned premises, waste pickers, waste dealers and recycling industries, which consumes recyclable waste to produced recycled products.
The quantity of municipal solid wastes generated in Mumbai has been consistently rising over the years. This can be attributed to the rapid population growth, mass migration of population from rural to urban areas, increase in economic activities in general in the city and the change in lifestyle of the people Mumbai is having more than one crore population. Composition of waste generated is shown in Table 1. Average waste generated per capita per day in the city is 283 gms, for developed area it is 450 gms. Table 1.
Composition of waste generated in Mumbai |Population of City |1Crore 20 Lakhs | |Floating Population |30 Lacks | |Garbage generation/capita/day | |developed area |450 gms | |Slums |250 gms | |floating population |150 gms | |Average |283 gms |
As city is having large population total waste generated in the city is more than seven thousand tones per day, distribution of waste generated is given in table 2. Generation of wet waste (4500 tonnes) is nine times more than dry waste (500 tonnes). The quantity of waste generated is having seasonal variation of 25% in the month of April, May and June because of more floating population in this period. Table 2. Quantity of waste generated in Mumbai Wet waste / day |4500 Tonnes | |Silt and debris waste / day |2000 Tonnes | |Bio medical waste / day |25 Tonnes | |Dry waste / day |500 Tonnes | |Total Garbage generation/day |7025 Tonnes | Category of waste generated is shown in table 3.
City is generating 37. 50% of compostable matter followed by 35. 00% of sand and fine earth. Generation of paper and plastic is 15. 00% and 0. 75% respectively. Though plastic composes only 0. 75% of the total waste generated, it causes maximum nuisance such as clogging of drains. Moreover, considering that its combustion poses a health hazards due to the release of toxic gases and that it is not biodegradable, MCGM has banned the plastic bags below the 20-micron size as a preventive measure. Table 3. Category of waste generated in Mumbai Category |% by Weight | |Paper |15. 00% | |Plastics |0. 75% | |Metals |0. 80% | |Glass |0. 40% | |Sand & Fine Earth |35. 00% | |Compostable matter |37. 50% | |Others |10. 55% | Stakeholders involved in recycling of Solid waste in Mumbai
In the overall sequence of activities, starting from collection of recyclable materials to the final disposal and recycling of waste, significant contributions are made by a range of private stakeholder groups outside the municipal authorities. These stakeholder groups wheel the informal sector recycling trade activities namely segregation, collection, sale and purchase of recyclable materials, and the actual process of recycling at recycling units. Residents and shopkeepers sell recyclable items, such as newspaper, glass containers, tin cans etc. to kabariwallas or itinerant waste collectors.
The waste pickers retrieve recyclable materials from what is discarded by households, commercial establishments and industries from municipal wastes. Larger commercial establishments and industries sell the recyclable waste (in segregated form or otherwise) to waste dealers in bulk, who then sell it to recyclers. Waste pickers pass on the retrieved materials to waste dealers. Then there are agents who facilitate transactions between medium / large waste dealers and recycling unit owners. A typical structure of waste trade is presented in Fig 1. The informal sectors are crucial in the broader framework of urban waste management.
It calls for only small capital investment, responds directly to local needs and demands, requires low capital investment, ensures livelihood of a significant number of urban poor and reduces the environmental burden other wise caused due to the same quantum of solid wastes had it remained uncollected. Unfortunately, not all the stakeholders benefit proportionately from these activities. Amongst all the stakeholders the waste pickers who come from highly vulnerable background, often become victims of exploitation, despite their significant service to the environment and society at large.
Fig. 1 Recycling and movement of waste through the various people involved in the waste trade Outcome of study The study intends to present a role of the rag pickers of Mumbai with focus on the socio-economic aspects and their involvement in solid waste management. The study will make use of a database, parenting to the socio-economic profile of the rag pickers including the working conditions, and their problems and expectations with respect to their involvement in solid waste management and comparative analysis of rag pickers income with other unskilled workers in the study area.
This database will be developed through literature review, questionnaire survey and open-ended interviews conducted to generate data on rag pickers in Mumbai. Further, relevant policies of the Government have been examined to assess its understanding of the overall role of the waste pickers, and to explore the concerns and commitments of the Government towards them. Recommendations have been made to enhance the efficiency of the Government ventures in addressing the basic problems of the waste pickers, associated with deplorable working conditions, poor returns, exploitation and their everyday harassments.
Suggestions have been made to improve the design of policy initiatives aimed at integrating waste collection and disposal by incorporating the employment needs of the urban poor and migrants, with adequate attention to the occupational health aspect of these people. References 1. Agape,2005, Ragpickers in Bangalore,www. agapeindia. com 2. CPCB,2000, Management of Municipal Solid Waste, CPCB Publication, New Delhi 3. FICCI,2005, Environment Conclave,www. FICCI. com. 4. Gay. J,2003, Development as freedom: A virtuous circle? ,www. afrobarometer. rg. 5. GuptaS. K,2004, Rethinking Waste Management I India, www. indiatogether. org. 6. Hardoy,E. J,Mitlin,D,Satterthwaite,D,1992,Environmental Problems in Third World, Earthscan Publications Ltd, London. 7. Medina. M,et. al,2002,Globalisation, Development and Municipal Solid waste management in third world cities,www. gdnet. org. 8. Ray. M. R,et. al, 2004, Respiratory and general health impairments of ragpickers in India; a study in Delhi, www. bdsp. tm. fr. 9. Rouse. J,2006, Involving the informal sector in improved solid waste management,www. wg. net. 10. UNCHS, 2001, Cities in A Globalizing World, Earthscan publications Ltd, London 11. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, New York, 2004. ———————–  Detailed figures and relative trends regarding the poverty have been given in UNCHS,2001, p14-15.  Including Urban and Rural.  Municipal solid waste (MSW) refers to materials discarded in urban areas for which municipalities are usually responsible for collection, transportation and final disposal.
This waste encompasses household refuse, institutional waste, street sweeping, commercial wastes and construction and demolition debris. In developing countries this also includes varying amounts of industrial wastes as well as dead animals and fecal matter. (Medina,2002)  Based upon a survey of Rag pickers conducted in Mumbai city by Stree Mukti Sangathana, a NGO working for their upliftment.  Stated in Noble Laureate Amartya Sen’s seminal work Development as Freedom.
Instrumental freedoms include political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security, which are all different but highly inter-connected.  Such as the Solid Waste Management Rules 2000 constituted under the Environment Protection Act 1986 that direct the ULBs to take stringent measures to manage municipal solid waste in urban areas.  Abbreviated form of Central Pollution Control Board.  Consumption linked to per capita income has a very strong relationship with amount of waste generation.
As per capita income rises consumerist tendencies increase and so does the waste. (Gupta,2004)  Rouse, 2006 quotes this figure in context of the low income developing countries including India.  Mumbai produces 7050 tonnes of waste daily and for Delhi the amount is 7000 tonnes.  As hazardous waste are usually not separated at the source for separate collection and disposal the ragpickers are exposed to more potential particulate, toxic materials, gases and infectious micro organisms  Primarily Asthama, bronchitis and Tuberculosis 13] Caused due to picking heavy loads and also long hours of bending while sorting out waste.  When the disposal sites have a high methane, carbondioxide and carbon monoxide concentrations. Pune generates an estimated 1000 tonnes of waste out of which atleast 250 tonnes is handled by ragpickers amounting to 25% of the total waste of the city. In a first time move in India, the Pune Municipal Corporation in Maharashtra agreed to provide health insurance to the ragpickers in the city.
The move which has been cleared by the Municipal Commissioner Mr T. C. Benjamin and is currently awaiting approval of the standing committee.  Source: Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai  Source: Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai  Source: Mumbai Municipal Corporation ———————– Consumers Recycler Large Waste Dealers Medium Waste Dealers Small Waste Dealers Kabariwalla Street waste/ Dumpyards Waste Pickers Post Consume