Waste pickers, as the term speaks for itself, is considered to be one of the lowest merit jobs in the urban informal occupations and the majority of the population employed in this field are women and children. Understanding the statistics, there is an estimated 1.5 million to 4 million waste pickers in India who are illiterate, unskilled, migrants belonging to the lowest caste hierarchy and the poorest of the poor. They are unable to find any employment opportunities, thereby finding their way in the urban landfills doing the job of waste pickers. Further exploring the statistics, it states that in any state or city of India, it is not possible to estimate the exact population of waste pickers but on an average, there are around 80-90% women and children involvement.
The waste pickers do not have an employer for which they work, however, there is some possibility wherein the contractors are involved who hire these waste pickers. Predominantly, they are self-employed, with no formal and legal recognition by the local municipalities or recyclable units. Moreover, these women waste pickers deal with toxic and hazardous wastes such as glass, plastic, putrid (rotten gases) without any suitable training to deal with it. As a result, it is common to find several health issues associated such as musculoskeletal problems, respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments. Many a time, they get injured while collecting plastic and glass wastes. Moreover, being women, they always have the fear of social security or getting harassed by the police, municipal authorities and other people. To avoid such nuisances, they usually complete their tasks early morning before 6 A.M. They are exploited even in terms of wages as there are no fixed wage rates for these women waste pickers. Due to fewer wages, they are unable to take care of their health. Whatever amount they make is utilized in fulfilling their daily living needs.
Looking at some of the major issues, though the list is never-ending, it is imperative to come up with some policy changes in order to support these women waste pickers. They should be formalized and recognized by the constitution as they also have the same social and fundamental rights as we do. Finally, all of us as individuals should understand that waste pickers are cleaning the mess that we created and our existence is heavily dependent on their efforts.