• With burgeoning population and even faster urbanisation, there has been an explosion in the generation of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in Indian cities.
  • It is important to note that the engagement of formal waste management system remains low in the cities, primarily due to insufficient funds, low sectoral development and lack of know-how about sustainable waste management businesses.
  • Hence, in many developing countries, including India, waste collection and material recycling activities are majorly performed by the informal waste sector.
  • Informal waste collectors include individuals, associations or waste-traders who are involved in sorting, sale and purchase of recyclable materials.
  • Waste picker is a person informally engaged in the collection and recovery of reusable and recyclable solid waste from the source of waste generation to sale of waste to recyclers directly or through intermediaries.
  • It is estimated that the informal waste economy employs about 0.5% – 2% of the urban population worldwide.


  • The informal sector is often not officially approved, recognised and acknowledged, besides the fact that they potentially contribute to waste recycling practices of cities by collecting, sorting, processing, storing and trading waste materials in the recycling value chain.
  • The informal sector lives in close proximity to dumpsites and works under unhygienic and unhealthy conditions.
  • The workers have no access to drinking water or public toilets.
  • They do not have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gumboots and aprons.
  • Due to the poor living and working conditions, malnutrition, anaemia and tuberculosis are common among them.
  • They are treated as dirty and unwanted elements of society, and they have to deal with exploitative social behaviour.
  • Wages and living conditions of different strata of informal waste-workers differ greatly.

Way Forward

  • There is an urgent need to frame and implement a uniform waste-picker welfare law that recognises and integrates them into the waste management chain.
  • It must include basic provisions related to mandatory identity cards, access to waste for collection, segregation, and sorting, PPE to minimise occupational hazards, right to basic necessities like water, sanitation and facilities for clean living, and health insurance.


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