By Chitra Mukherjee:
Santu, the recycler – a story of rags!
An estimated 15 million people around the world survive by sifting through trash, rooting out plastic packaging, glass bottles, scrap metal, paper and other tossed-out goods that are then resold for recycling.
In some places, the recycling rate reaches more than 80 percent, an exercise in efficiency that saves the planet a fortune in environmental terms.
By reusing old waste, manufacturers avoid the need to extract new raw materials. And they no longer emit the millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases that would be expended to transform primary materials into a viable source for new garments, newspapers, packaging and so on.
This is the story of Jaiprakash Choudhary alias Santu who is just such a wastepicker (ragpicker). Santu was 17 years old when he left Bihar for Delhi in 1994 in search of a job.
Santu started work as a waste picker, scavenging through garbage dumps. In three to four months, he collected enough money to purchase a bicycle and started door-to-door collection of garbage.
Within two years, he organized a group of wastepickers and started buying garbage from them.
The turning point came in 1999, when he became part of Chintan, a registered NGO that works to find green jobs for this unorganised, informal sector – wastepickers and kabaris (scrap dealers) – in solid waste management, toxic waste management and emerging waste areas, such as e-waste, CFLs etc.
Using that platform, he formed an organization of waste pickers and propagated the green aspect of the work.
Now, his group collects garbage not only from homes but also from hotels, offices and railway stations. After segregating, almost all of the garbage is sent for recycling.
In 2009, this waste picker from Delhi, represented Delhi’s garbage collectors at an international platform in Copenhagen and addressed world leaders on the importance of a kabariwalla.
In faltering English, but with strong conviction, he informed world leaders about the important role waste pickers play in reducing carbon emissions.
Today, Santu has 25 people working under him. Santu and his band of boys collect and segregate roughly 3,000 tonnes of garbage a month.
Waste pickers in Delhi are collecting, segregating and recycling about 30% of its garbage. Not only are they reducing the load on landfill sites, but they are also offsetting huge amounts of emissions that would have taken place if all of it was burnt.
Santu is now fully aware that his work isn’t just about earning money but also about saving the planet. And he is justifiably proud of it.