Why We Need To Recognise The People Who Can Save Us From Another Landfill Disaster

By Imran Khan:

Everyone in Delhi has heard of what happened in Ghazipur on September 1, when a landfill crashed, killing two people, injuring several more, and causing massive property damage. Enough has been said about what it was and why it happened, but unfortunately, not enough has been said about how we can avoid such disasters and the central role of waste-pickers in that.

First of all, we must utilise the massive workforce that works around waste. Delhi has around 1.5 lakh people engaged in collection, transportation and recycling of waste. They collect approximately 15-20% of all waste generated by Delhi’s 20 million residents.  There are some existing rules and policies related to waste which clearly mandate the inclusion of the informal sector waste-pickers in solid waste management such as:

  • Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, Rule 15 (c): “Establish a system to recognise organisations of waste pickers or informal waste collectors and promote and establish a system for integration of these authorised waste-pickers and waste collectors to facilitate their participation in solid waste management including door to door collection of waste.”
  • National Action Plan for Climate Change, 2009, 3.2.1, Page 29: “While the informal sector is the backbone of India’s highly successful recycling system, unfortunately, a number of municipal regulations impede the operation of the recyclers, owing to which they remain at a tiny scale without access to finance or improved recycling technologies.”
  • National Environment Policy 2006, 2.8 (e), Page 36:Give legal recognition to, and strengthen the informal sector systems of collection and recycling of various materials. In particular, enhance their access to institutional finance and relevant technologies.

However, these policies have largely remained on paper. If Delhi, and India, has to manage its waste so that more lives are not lost, the informal sector of wastepickers must be engaged properly.

The way forward then is to firstly ensure universal doorstep collection, wherein a service fee is paid to the informal sector wastepickers. These wastepickers should be recognised and provided an I-Card by the municipality. The next step of the process, wherein the waste is properly segregated by wastepickers, would require the provision of space for local waste handling by the zonal master plans. This space can also be utilised by the wastepickers to store and sell the segregated waste that can be recycled. This way, less and less waste will reach the landfills, and the problems of mass waste dumping at landfills will be addressed at its core.

However, this will not be enough. For Delhi to truly deal with its waste woes, each and every resident must also do their bit. For that, we all should live by the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Residents should also segregate their waste at the source, separating it into dry waste and wet waste. The wet waste can also be composted. There are several guides and decentralised mechanisms for that. If not, residents could get together and set one up. Since 50% of all waste we generate is wet waste in India, this will go a long way in effective waste management.

Together, we can manage our waste woes to ensure that an incident like this does not happen again.

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