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Delhi’s Waste Entrepreneurs

   
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In India, wastepickers, mostly women, are an informal army of workers, sorting through mounds of trash found at places like this dump near Mahipalpur, New Delhi, for bits of paper and plastic they may be able to sell. Wastepicking reduces the amount of trash that’s burned in incinerators, mitigating adverse environmental impacts.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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A man empties a refuse sack into a waste collection rickshaw in New Delhi.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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Two men weigh a sack of leftover pizza dough on scales at a refuse storage and sorting facility owned by the one-time-wastepicker-turned-businesswoman Rekha, who sells the dough for 4 rupees a kilogram to her neighbors to feed to their cows. “When you give them this bread, the malnourished cows give more milk,” she says.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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Rekha’s refuse storage and sorting facility is a central gathering place for materials her wastepicking team salvages.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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Since arriving in Delhi 18 years ago, Rekha has gone from working as a wastepicker in one of the city’s large landfills to collecting trash directly from middle-class households to becoming a waste entrepreneur, employing 16 people and working with corporates such as fast food chains, hotels and malls to collect trash to be recycled.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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Posters from fast food restaurants adorn the walls of Rekha’s home within the refuse storage and sorting facility she runs.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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Rekha (left) speaks with one of the wastepickers she employs while others continue to sort through trash.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi Kumari (left foreground), Meena Devi (right foreground) and others sort waste inside Rekha’s refuse storage and sorting facility. Rekha now employs 16 wastepickers and sorters at her facility.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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A girl walks past bales of recovered waste paper at Rekha’s refuse storage and sorting facility.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

   
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Wastepickers have a tremendously positive impact on the environment. They’re the single largest mitigator of greenhouse gas emissions in Delhi, more than any new technology in the city. Their savings are equivalent to removing roughly 175,000 passenger vehicles from the roads annually.

Photo by Simon de Trey-White

 

In New Delhi, an informal army of tens of thousands of workers known as wastepickers dig through Delhi’s garbage, gathering plastic, paper, pieces of metal and shards of glass, recycling every scrap. The impact of these efforts on the environment are tremendously positive, making wastepicking the single largest mitigator of greenhouse gas emissions in the city, the equivalent of removing roughly 175,000 passenger vehicles from the roads.

Today, thanks to efforts by the Delhi-based nonprofit organization Chintan, which works for environmental justice for India’s poor and marginalized by building partnerships, some of these workers are finding opportunities to collect and sort trash directly from businesses, keeping it out of landfills altogether. Rekha, one of the people now working with Chintan, arrived in Delhi 18 years ago and has gone from working as a wastepicker to becoming a waste entrepreneur, employing 16 people and working with fast food chains, hotels and malls to collect trash to be recycled.

To learn more about Rekha and the work Chintan is doing, read the Ensia article “India’s Informal Environmental Army.” View Ensia homepage

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