Some professions are important for the smooth functioning of cities but receive very little attention. One such profession is the role of the ragpicker or waste picker. They seldom receive the respect and recognition they deserve and are often looked down upon by the larger sections of society.
In most cities in India, it is a common sight to find men and women with a bag slung over their shoulders rummaging through dumping spots, using a sharp and pointed metallic tool, to pick up recyclable waste that can be sold to local waste aggregation shops. Because of the lack of appropriate gear or equipment, they face high infection risks due to contact with hazardous and bacterially infected waste. They do work without any job security, salary, or dignity. In India, 62 million tons of solid waste is generated every year, resulting in an estimated economic rag picking activity worth about ₹3200 crores ($450 million). In Bangalore alone, waste pickers save the municipal authorities up to Rs. 84 crores on account of collection and transportation alone by picking recyclables from waste for transportation. The work done by this informal segment of waste pickers results in reuse, recycling, and downcycling, thus ensuring plastics do not enter landfills or pollute water systems which can harm plants and animals.
Hasiru Dala (the “Green Force”) is a social impact organisation based in Bangalore that focuses on justice for waste pickers through interventions co-created with the waste pickers in the areas of identity rights, access to family education, healthcare, housing, skill development, market, and employment access, and multi-tier policy advocacy. Above all, Hasiru Dala aims to provide its members with opportunities to help them claim their much-deserved role in society – as ‘green-collar workers’ who quietly labour towards keeping the cities clean and mitigating climate change by enhancing recycling. Hasiru Dala Innovations Private Limited, a for-benefit and not-for-loss social enterprise that evolved from the Hasiru Dala trust, is focused on better livelihoods for waste pickers through inclusive businesses that have an environmental impact. It adopted a user-pay model based on the principle that “the polluter pays,” based on the amount of waste generated.
They offer total waste management services that include collecting all categories of waste, products such as compost kits and jute bags, and the assurance that a total of 90% of the waste collected is diverted from the landfill and processed sustainably. Many bulk waste generators such as apartment and commercial complexes utilise the services of Hasiru Dala to manage their waste. They are more than happy to pay for the services offered by Hasiru Dala.
As of 2018, Hasiru Dala successfully obtained identity cards for 7500 informal waste pickers[i], giving their work recognition and saving them from arbitrary harassment. Most of the waste pickers are migrants with hardly any ID proofs. As of March 2019, Hasiru Dala helped over 430 clients (280 of whom are residential complexes covering over 30,500 households) manage the waste they generate, including three-way segregation at source and helping them to divert over 900 tons of waste per month away from landfills.
By tapping into the customer need to manage waste, contribute to the cause of a green and sustainable environment, and impact livelihoods of the underprivileged sections of society positively, Hasiru Dala was able to strike an emotional connection with its customers.
[i] Sudipta Mohanty (2018). Hasiru Dala Innovations: adding new definitions to what makes a successful business [Online]. Available from: https://www.cag.org.in/blogs/hasiru-dala-innovations-adding-new-definitions-what-makes-successful-business [1 Oct 2010]