Tenth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities.
“Waste picking ranks lowest in the hierarchy of urban informal occupations and a large number of those employed in this occupation are women and children. Illiterate, unskilled persons, migrants, those lowest in the caste hierarchy and the poorest of the poor, predominantly work as waste pickers as they are unable to find any other kind of employment” (source). It is vital to address inequality in all countries globally. Notably “economic inequality is largely driven by the unequal ownership of capital” (source), people in waste picking communities often have little to no capital at all, and thereby they have a large hurdle to overcome in order to be equal members of society. Thus, there is a growing demand to value what waste pickers can and are doing for the rest of the community they live and work in.
A recent study has strongly recommended for the “reconceptualisation of solid waste management systems that integrate waste pickers as partners, as key to building just, inclusive and livable cities for all” (source), based on findings from three continents. There is a paramount need for this in many situations where children within India, for example, are forced to pick waste to feed themselves (source). If those who live in higher socioeconomic standards fail to recognise this poor situation, that directly affects men, women and children, equality is unlikely to be achieved. Waste pickers, and other vulnerable groups who live in unequal situations across the globe, deserve to be part of the system, as vital and as important as every other individual.
Access to education for waste pickers within India has been found to be one of the most beneficial ways to help even these inequalities and allow waste pickers to climb out of the situation they have been born or migrated into (source). Yet it is not only education for the waste pickers that is needed. Above and beyond this is the need to educate broader society and continually keep everyday individuals- no matter what socioeconomic class or background they come from- aware of these types of unequal situations. Central to a well functioning circular economy is knowledge. Information about how each part of the system works and what is required for it to be maintained must be available.
To achieve a sustainable future it is of paramount importance that individuals who do not pick up waste on a daily basis, as well as those who do, know and understand the extent of inequality in waste picking communities along with other facts about waste and the environment. For example, at least 33% of waste is mismanaged globally through open dumping or burning (source). There needs to be recognition by all that “solid waste management affects every single person in the world, whether individuals are managing their own waste or governments are providing waste management services” (source). To achieve a zero-waste society we must be aware of these situations. Aware of the social justice side of it. Aware of the environmental. Aware of all of it. Without this heightened understanding of knowledge that needs to be kept up to date and available through educational programs, along with other solutions, an equal, just and sustainable world is unlikely to be achieved. Yet, with it, the possibilities are much brighter for those children who need to collect waste to feed themselves (source), and for you and me.