Eighth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.
It has been estimated that there are “1.5- 4 million waste pickers in India, who pick up, clean, sort and segregate recyclable waste and sell it further up the value chain” (source). These manual workers sort, segregate and evaluate the products that they collect around the streets of towns and cities throughout India. This type of work is one of the “most accessible means of livelihood for the impoverished in India as it requires minimal skills, knowledge or capital investment” (source). Yet, despite the fact that they are estimated to “recycle 20% of the country’s wastes” (source) they often lack support that they need to lift themselves from this level of poverty.
Although support is often lacking there are a growing number of organisations within the country who are attempting to provide a higher standard of life by providing a decent working standard. A key example of focusing on creating structure for waste workers and in particular women and girls is seen in the organisation WEIGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing), who are a global research, policy network focusing on improving livelihoods of the working poor in the informal economy. This has led, in Pune in India, to collaboration with the “8000-strong union of waste pickers, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and its solid waste management cooperative SWaCH” (source) to improvements of Occupational Health and Safety standards, and provided support for KKPKP’s campaign on Extended Producer Responsibility, which directly improves the livelihoods of women and girls.
Creating formalised systems within the informal waste picking workforce will assist everyone within the country while the amount of waste continues to grow- “In the last two decades, Delhi’s population has quickly risen to about 19 million from about 12 million and infrastructure and government services have not kept pace. During roughly the same period, the amount of waste ferried to the dumps has accumulated rapidly, growing from eight million pounds to at least 20 million daily” (source). This steady increase of waste must be addressed in a variety of ways. One of them is by assisting the people who work with the products on a day to day basis.
Economic growth can be found for these workers within this country and in other waste picking communities around the world. They deserve to be recognised and provided with the opportunity to undertake decent work for themselves and their families. There are many opportunities where the forecast of growth has the potential to lead to higher levels of livelihood through better paid jobs. The International Finance Corporation, for instance, has forecast that “the electronic waste sector will create 4.5 lakh direct jobs by 2025 and another 1.8 lakh jobs in the allied sectors of transportation and manufacturing” (source). Every individual deserves the opportunity to have decent work that can come through this type of growth. Fortunately there is growing recognition of what is required within the waste sector to achieve this, it must be embraced.
In order to combat the waste crisis globally we must recognise waste pickers and stop viewing it as them and us. It is paramount, for long term sustainability, that every individual is provided with the same opportunities. Without equality being achieved the complex problems of our waste crisis will not be solved. To put it another way, without it a key area of the circular economy will not provide the support that the rest of the circle needs.