Closure of community bin area in Delhi deals blow to waste pickers

The informal waste recyclers in Connaught Place also segregated the waste collected. They extracted recyclables from waste and sold it

By Richa Singh
Published: Wednesday 31 March 2021

The community bin area in the national capital’s Connaught Place — which was recently shut by the New Delhi municipal Council — has dealt a blow to the livelihood of families engaged in door-to-door collection of garbage.

The informal waste recyclers comprising nearly 12 families in the area not only collected waste, but also segregated it. They extracted recyclables from waste and sold it, which helped them sustain their livelihood.

They would dispose of the residual organic waste in community waste-bins. With the shutdown of the community bin area, however, there is no space to segregate waste and collect recyclables.

 “I had been working in this colony for the last 30 years. But I am unable to sustain my family now,” said Ram Kumar (70).

He, along with others, now collects waste from households but disposes them of in the nearby railway line area without extracting the recyclables.

Sorting recyclables in mixed waste requires basic infrastructure and space that should be provided or subsidised by municipalities. 

Millions of informal waste pickers in India make their living by collecting, sorting, recycling and selling waste. Public health and sanitation improves when waste pickers remove the waste from urban areas not served by municipal garbage collection. Waste pickers contribute to local economies, public health and safety and environmental sustainability.

While recognition for their contributions is growing in some places, they often live and work in deplorable conditions and get little to no support from local governments.  An absence of legal identity and recognition is another challenge they face.

The state policies and strategies, according to the Solid Waste Management Rules (2016), should acknowledge the primary role played by the informal sector, waste collectors and recycling industry in reducing waste. They should provide broad guidelines regarding integration of waste pickers in the waste management system.

Local authorities should establish a system to recognise organizations of waste pickers or informal waste collectors and promote and establish a system for integration of authorised waste-pickers and collectors to facilitate their participation in solid waste management.

Local authorities need to set up material recovery or secondary storage facilities with sufficient space to sort recyclable materials and enable informal waste pickers to separate recyclables from the waste.

Easy access to waste pickers and recyclers for collecting segregated recyclable waste such as paper, plastic, metal, glass, textile from the source of generation or from material recovery facilities should be provided.

In this regard, the New Delhi Municipal Council should reconsider its decision of shutting down community bin areas. Unscientific disposal of waste in adjoining areas is likely to cause adverse impact to the environmental sustainability.

Effective mechanism to empower these informal waste recyclers should be adopted by urban local bodies through training sessions on the basic know-how of waste segregation and use of personal protection equipment such as gloves and mask. Cleanliness of the community bin area can be improved by educating informal waste recyclers and integrating them in the solid waste management chain.

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