Environment

Mumbai's Ragpickers Vie for Better Recycling Niche

Friday, May 13, 2011

Female "ragpickers" in Mumbai are no longer what their name suggests. These days, many are in collectives and trying to find a better deal in the recycling industry. But it's not easy when government business mandates on their behalf go ignored.



MUMBAI, India (WOMENSENEWS)–Laxmi Kamble wants a warehouse.

Then she and other women who work as the city's "ragpickers" could have a "plastics bank" for the wastes they go around collecting from the streets.

They would also have a place to sort out their hauls in peace, away from police officers who demand bribes for letting them use street corners and other public locations.

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Scores of women are on the move here, looking for every bit of waste that can be bought by traders and recycling companies. They forage through streets, housing colonies and business districts.

"If women gain the knowledge of this business they can become owners instead of only being the gatherers of all this garbage," says Kamble, head of the Dharavi advocacy project for ragpickers in Mumbai.

Acorn India, which launched the Dharavi project for ragpickers in 2008, now counts 500 members.

"At the moment, we have only given them identity cards and run programs for their children. We are exploring the situation, seeing how best we can help them," says Vinod Shetty, Acorn India's director.

But moving up won't be easy even if Kamble gets her warehouse.

Scrap is a sharp-elbow business in a city where consumption is rising fast along with the demand for recycled materials.

One advocacy group for ragpickers is Parisar Bhagini Vikas Sangh, launched in 1997. It now claims more than 3,500 female members across Mumbai and Pune. Its cooperatives collect garbage from housing societies, hospitals and malls.

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