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A Waste-Recycling Project In Kolkata That Is For Women, By Women

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This article was originally published by Earth Day Network – India in its eBook ‘Pathways To Green Cities: Innovative Ideas From Urban India’ 

South Asian Forum for the Environment (SAFE) runs ‘Resolve: Trash to Cash’, a project that has empowered ragpickers to turn trash into cash. The effort has been recognised by UNEP in their ‘Clean Up the World Campaign.’ Efficient waste management is a major problem in India’s urban spaces. The city of Kolkata is no exception. According to estimates, 5,372 metric tonnes of solid waste is generated in Kolkata every day. Waste paper forms 7.4% of the trash. This is increasing by 0.63% per annum.

According to estimates, 5,372 metric tonnes of solid waste is generated in Kolkata every day. Waste paper forms 7.4% of the trash. This is increasing by 0.63% per annum. Representative image.

The overburdened Municipal Corporation services cannot cope with these vast quantities, with the result that waste is often just dumped into open vats. Urban audits indicate that over a half of Kolkata’s slum dwellers are settled around these municipal dumps where they eke out a meagre livelihood by scavenging to retrieve items for recycling.

The slum dwellers are engaged in the waste trade as collectors, aggregators, or suppliers. They wade into garbage heaps to retrieve recyclable items. Their efforts earn them a mere 2–5% as brokerage, as the larger chunk of profits from the activity—crores of Rupees—accrue to a handful of powerful traders. What an unstructured and non-equitable revenue distribution system. In addition, the ragpickers are exposed to the hazardous diseases they are likely to get exposed to.

To help change this radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world, SAFE created ‘Resolve: Trash to Cash’ as an entrepreneurial opportunity for the urban poor, in particular, women ragpickers. This waste recycling project is steadily taking shape as a micro-enterprise that develops entrepreneurial skills in slum dwellers. It provides social recognition and empowerment to those who were earlier socially ostracised.

There are many positive results from this innovative project, the most important of which is that ‘Resolve: Trash to Cash’ helps to mainstream socially excluded marginal urban poor without displacing them from their trade. Representative image.

SAFE began by holding workshops in slum areas to explain ways to earn cash from the trash. The interactions also provided an opportunity to gauge the interest of the slum dwellers in being a part of the project. Those who volunteered to ‘give it a try’ were formed into Joint Liability Groups (JLGs) comprising 10 members each. The first project was to make papier mâché gift items out of waste paper. Banks were approached to open accounts for the JLGs—a Herculean task, as most of the JLG members had no documents as an identity proof. Thanks to well-wishers and sheer perseverance of SAFE officials, UCO bank opened
accounts for the JLGs.

Training workshops conducted by master trainers began in earnest. All the JLG members were provided basic information on marketing strategies, business acumen, finance management and the basics of accounting. The women, for whom it was easier to stay home and work, learnt ways to make gift items out of waste paper. Several corporate sector units volunteered to segregate trash at source so that the waste paper needed could be collected easily. Bins were placed in their offices to facilitate this. SAFE helped in marketing the finished products at fairs, via social media and to the many corporate houses that purchase these as gifts for distribution. A five-star hotel in Kolkata has just placed an order for eco-friendly papier mâché picture frames!

Image source: http://resolvetrash2cash.org/recycling/

Resolve: Trash to Cash’ is fully owned by the women members who elect representatives and have a say in decision making. Initial funding for the pilot project came from Vodafone Essar Limited, followed by support from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Kolkata Urban Services for the Poor programme of the Government of West Bengal.

There are many positive results from this innovative project, the most important of which is that ‘Resolve: Trash to Cash’ helps to mainstream socially excluded marginal urban poor without displacing them from their trade. Instead, they help organise their efforts into a structured revenue return model through technology transfer and an understanding of finances.

Economic empowerment has come by virtue of an increased income of nearly 35% over previous earnings. This is apart from funds that have been kept aside as working capital. Around 400 persons who participated in this programme directly or indirectly are now covered by micro-finance insurance. Tata-AIG Life’s specially designed policy towards risk enabled this. On the environment side, a positive attitude toward the need to segregate waste at source has developed.

This has resulted in the reduction in landfill emission footprints and environmental pollution. The success of the paper waste recycling project has encouraged SAFE to introduce other projects as well. These include recycling of wet garbage into vermin compost that will reduce emissions from landfill and at the same time promote sustainable agriculture. Also, a project that focuses on the reuse of non-biodegradable plastic bottles as mould casts for creating home gardens.

About the author: Amrita Chatterjee is Head, Communication & Research, South Asian Forum for Environment.

Featured image source: Resolve: Trash2Cash.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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