The Plight of Rag-pickers: How are we contributing to it?

An important goal of Green Future Collective (GFC) is to integrate rag pickers into the organized sector, by providing them with relevant skill-building and life-skills training workshops. The age groups of the rag-picking women and children are diverse, the youngest being 6 and the oldest one being 45.


GFC, an eco-feminist non-profit organization, has collaborated with several Municipal Corporations across the country to catalyze SDG-11, with the mission of making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable through design, planning, management, and implementation of Waste Management. A major component of what we do is focused on providing skills, knowledge, dignity, and safety to the rag-picker community.


Rag-picking is a largely unregulated industry. Ragpickers make a living by collecting, sorting, and selling rubbish. As a result, they're assisting in the clean-up of a significant portion of India's 62 million metric tonnes of waste generated each year. But still, one can say that they don't have a regular job, regular salary, or even dignity. On the streets, they endure poverty, humiliation, lack of education, harassment, and sexual assault, as well as cuts, infection, respiratory diseases, and tuberculosis, among other things. We have personally seen a few people from our community have to get their arms amputated due to infection caused by unsafe contact with infected syringes which we so carelessly throw into our house bins.


Image copyright: Green Future Collective


But what can we do? How can we make sure that the people who risk their lives to keep ours sanitary have the opportunity to work in less precarious conditions? To begin with, segregate your waste. Simply segregate your plastics/metals/paper/ glass from your organic/fruit/ vegetable/wood waste. Make sure each of your syringes/ sanitary napkins/ diapers etc are wrapped safely in a piece of paper and hand it over to your waste collector in a separate bag. When these wastes are mixed, they release toxic gases into the air, which also poses a risk to air quality and ultimately our lives. Spending 5 minutes on this could not only help save lives but also protect the environment!


GFC not only provides job security and regular pay to its employees, but it also organizes skill development workshops, life-skills training such as reading and writing, workshops on financial literacy, etc. These are only some of many initiatives undertaken by the organization.


Recently, GFC collaborated with the Municipal Corporation of Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh organized India's first-ever curated waste-to-value festival by the name “Koodadhan festival”, with the aim of promoting the message of sustainability amongst everyone who has a role to play in creating and managing waste. So basically, everyone.


The event witnessed a footfall of more than 20000 people over a period of 3 days. The three-day cultural-creative-eco-friendly extravaganza attracted some of the most renowned industry experts and government leaders. Despite the Moral Code of Conduct being applicable at the time, the event was a dramatic success. Many more Municipal Corporations and Non-Profits have shown interest in conducting similar franchises in their district. This has turned out to be one of the most successful IEC initiatives in the Swachh Bharat Mission so far.




Written by Tanya Omar, DoCC intern at GFC (SP Jain College, Mumbai)

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