Why migration is fuelling inefficient urban waste management

While most people play the role of waste generators, there are very few that really
know where the waste goes after it leaves our homes, streets, offices etc. Does
the municipal authority collect it all? Hardly. Most of this is scavenged by
waste pickers or rag pickers who collect waste which they sell to informal
traders for a few rupees. The waste pickers operate informally living close to
waste sources which are located at the fringes of the city.

Most of these individuals are migrants who come to bigger cities hoping for a better
life. They sift through piles of rubble, domestic waste, medical waste and
industrial waste. Considering the complete lack of healthcare and sanitation
surrounding this informal waste collection, not many are willing but submit to
becoming waste pickers due to their dire need of income. While repeated
attempts are being made at formally integrating waste pickers in the waste
cycle, no urban body has been successful so far. This is due to multiple
reasons. There are multiple stakeholders in every waste cycle and none want to
lose their presence in the changed scenario. Also, while the waste pickers do
their job invisibly, the government can continue to give a blind eye. Residents
are happier because they have cleaner streets. Other than token efforts, like
the provision of rubber gloves, the municipal bodies have not done much to
improve the waste pickers’ lives.

However, many waste pickers die every year. They are treated as outcasts because of
their profession. However, waste picking does not ebb as continued migration has
lead to continuous waste picking. Immediate formalization and reinvention of
the role of waste pickers is required, such that the waste management system
becomes more effective and efficient and these migrant workers find themselves
gainful and respectable employment.

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