GDA India: Wastepickers Offer a Solution to Climate Change, Decry Waste-to-Energy and Privatisation
November 30, Chennai, India. As the world’s environment ministers convene a UN meeting in Mexico to address climate change, leaders of the Alliance of Indian Wastepickers (AIW) gathered in Chennai to offer their own solution to climate change and decry false solutions such as “waste-to-energy”. The leaders warned that two such “Refuse Derived Fuel” (RDF) plants are proposed for Chennai; if implemented, these plants would displace wastepickers, thus reducing recycling, increasing unemployment and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, all while adding costs to the public. They warned that these plants are part of a national trend towards privatising waste management, resulting in higher costs, loss of livelihoods, and worse environmental outcomes. Ministers should instead look to the wastepickers to solve problems of waste and climate change.
“We, the wastepickers, are actually India’s recycling system,” said K. Satyabhama from Aakar in Mumbai. “Our work reduces greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, but we are not given credit for our contribution.” A new report, “Respect for Recyclers: Protecting the Climate through Zero Waste” outlines the beneficial impacts of recycling: preserving forests, reducing energy use, less mining and oil drilling, and providing industry a low-cost, low-carbon source of raw materials. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is at least 3.5 times that offered by any alternative. However, this contribution by wastepickers is not given recognition nor support.
“When we get the support of local bodies, we can do much more,” added Chaya Sontake from the Swachh Cooperative in Pune. “Wastepickers in Pune and Mumbai have successfully implemented composting and biogas systems that provide valuable resources and eliminate the problem of methane emissions from dumps.” Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas emitted from dumpsites by organic (wet) waste decomposing under uncontrolled conditions. Wastepickers in these cities have solved the methane problem by setting up composting and biogas systems. Since organic/wet waste is the largest component of municipal waste, this also drastically reduces the cost of waste management to the municipality.
Throughout India, wastepickers are trying to improve their own lives while solving local waste management problems and addressing climate change. But they face apathy, disrespect and worse.
“Instead of helping the wastepickers to expand our work, CDM and MNRE are supporting false solutions such as RDF,” said Kohinoor of the All-India Kabari Mazdoor Mahasangh, Delhi. CDM (Clean Development Mechanism), the UN body which oversees the global carbon market, is supporting various waste-to-energy schemes such as the two RDF plants planned for Chennai. These plants burn waste, creating even more greenhouse gas emissions and toxic pollution. Since wet waste does not burn well, they also burn recyclable waste, which means they compete directly with the wastepickers and reduce their earnings. “It makes no sense that these companies are supported by schemes which are supposed to be benefit the environment,” continued Kohinoor.
These are the messages that three AIW delegates are taking to an international audience in Cancun, Mexico this week. “Our delegates are addressing the international climate change negotiators to demand recognition and support for wastepickers’ work and an end to international subsidies for ‘waste-to-energy’ plants,” said Nalini Shekar of AIW.
The Alliance of Indian Wastepickers is a national alliance of 33 organisations working with wastepickers and itinerant buyers towards securing their right to livelihood and inclusion in the mainstream waste management systems. The member organisations are working in Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and West Bengal.