Every day India generates more than 25,940 tonnes of plastic which equates to the same weight as 9,000 Asian elephants or 86 Boeing 747 planes. To add to this over half of this comes from the main cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Calcutta. 

Have you ever wondered what happens to your waste once it leaves your home? Where does it go? Who handles all of it? What are their lives like?

Today, we want to shed light on the people who work tirelessly to tackle garbage - our waste pickers or as we like to call them waste warriors. These are the people who collect waste from your homes, who segregate waste at waste centres and oversee their recycling, in some cases. One might have noticed them asking for just a glass of water as they pick up your waste, to handle the wrath of the Indian sun. If even a glass of water seemed like a luxury to them during normal times, how much more dire will their days be, amidst a pandemic? Come, let’s take a look.

Waste warriors, or Green Collar workers, as Hasirudala (a social impact organization that focuses on justice and respectable livelihood for this community), calls them, are the people you see collecting household, commercial or industrial waste and undertake their recycling, downcycling or reuse.

With the advent of the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, dry waste collection centres across the country were forced to shut down, leaving them to fend for themselves.

With no option to go back to their native lands for a long time, many of them were found to be living off just water and rice!

When restrictions eased down and things opened back up, the danger was still high. They had to choose between getting back to a high-risk job or almost starve themselves and their families by staying at home. 

Hence, back to work it was. Upon arrival, they were welcomed by a sea of face masks, gloves and other single-use plastic items that are being used increasingly and carelessly disposed of. These waste warriors are extremely vulnerable to contracting the disease themselves, as they sort through these humongous piles with their bare hands. Even with gloves on, the protection they get is minimal.

Adding to their predicament is the decrease in oil prices which have made virgin plastic cheaper than recycled plastic; meaning that even if they were to safely segregate all the plastic and other materials, the chances of selling it to a recycling company for a decent rate was extremely low. 

Their plight is quite an unfortunate affair at the moment. It’s important that we do our bit to help the community. Even the smallest act of kindness will go a long way, right now. Donating to trusted organisations that work for the empowerment of our green collared community, offering them some water and food can bring a smile on their faces. 

Bare Necessities has partnered with Hasirudala to make it easier for our customers to support the cause. For every purchase you make on our website, you have the option to donate the desired amount to Hasiru Dala, which will help support our waste warriors.

The Bare Team with Mansoor Bhai and his team at their Dry Waste Segregation Center, Jaynagar, Bangalore

Making changes in our lifestyles is another great way to lessen their burdens. If and when possible, let us switch to reusable, long-lasting items which are not only more effective at protecting us by also will not end up in landfills and avoid transmission of any virus or sickness. In one of our previous blogs, we debunked some myths around the protection plastic items might offer amidst a pandemic. 

As consumers, it is our job to ensure our waste is well segregated and disinfected before they're collected. We can also participate in waste cleanups to lend a much needed helping hand.

On that note we wanted to cover a pioneer in the green collar community, Mansoor Bhai, a waste picker turned activist. He loves talking about the 3Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle and has given several talks on the same! He also flew to Paris in 2015, to attend COP21 and shared his thoughts on waste management! 

Mansoor Bhai talking about waste segregation at an event hosted by Sustainability Drinks 

We had the privilege of meeting him at one such event hosted by Sustainability Drinks, a platform that brings together the sustainability community through curated talks and panel discussions. He was full of knowledge on the waste management system in our country and was bustling with energy throughout the meet. It also awakened us to the diverse personalities of this community and had a chance to listen to their dreams, goals and aspirations.

Recently, we were immensely inspired by his TED Talk on waste management. He spoke all about the reality of waste in India, the importance of segregating our waste and the challenges he's overcome in his life to get to where he is today. 

Listen in to his talk amongst a variety of other brilliant speakers in diverse fields.

We're extremely grateful to him and the community as a whole for the noble service that they do! 

 Written by: Reshma Bhat