From the eight lakh tonnes of waste that India generates every week, about three-fourth of it is disposed by waste-pickers or rag pickers as we know them. India has around four million rag pickers who 'bury' themselves in these mountains of filth every single day.
A large percentage of waste pickers are women who go unrecognised as essential workers even as they bear the burden of gender inequity, caste oppression and social exclusion that comes with the profession. Despite initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that have managed to keep the streets and cities clean, wastepickers’ work still without protective equipment, financial stability and access to healthcare.
Now, the increased use of disposable PPE in the pandemic is an additional quantum of dangerous waste that waste-pickers have to tackle every day. Against this backdrop, The Body Shop India has joined hands with Plastics for Change (PFC) India Foundation to start Project N.A.R.I – a grassroots initiative for female waste-pickers that focuses on four vital pillars – nutrition, ability, retraining and inclusion.
The campaign addresses pressing socio-economic issues that female waste workers face, and aims to positively impact their financial, health and family/s well-being in the long-term.
"Project N.A.R.I. includes systemic interventions spanning six months that are required for sustainable, onground impact in reducing health and financial risks faced by female waste-pickers. The issues that we aim to address include reducing health risks by providing robust PPE kits; access to safe nutrition, healthcare awareness and training and development of female waste-pickers towards becoming plastic quality engineers," says Shriti Malhotra, CEO, The Body Shop India.
The programme provides access to banking systems and cash incentives for female waste-pickers working within the Plastics for Change system to help source recyclable plastic.
PPE kits (N-95 masks, caps, face shields, gumboots and gloves) will be distributed in most cities apart from Delhi, along with information on the importance of maintaining social distancing. For gender inclusion, the PFC is hiring female wastepickers and retraining them to take up plastic quality engineering roles.
"It is a threemonth course. The cost of training, development and stipends will be borne from the project funding to make them 'job ready' for full-time employment. They will get access to governmental social and financial security schemes that will lessen their economic vulnerability," says Andrew Almack, CEO and Founder, Plastic For Change.
Incentives to promote saving, include depositing Rs 1 for every 1 kg of plastic traded with PFC verified scrap shops directly into the bank accounts of female waste-pickers.