Trash to Treasure – Improving the Livelihoods of India's Invisible Environmentalists

Trash to Treasure – Improving the Livelihoods of India's Invisible Environmentalists

India
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

“Trash to Treasure” program seeks to improve the livelihoods of informal recyclers in India, estimated at 1.5 million, while improving waste collection and recycling services particularly in slum communities. In Bangalore, CHF piloted a new “decentralised” model of waste collection and integrated the entrepreneurial energy of informal recyclers into this system so they can extract value from recyclables. The result is that less waste goes to the landfill, more materials are recycled and more income goes into the hands of informal recyclers under better working conditions.
Informal recyclers — mostly women from lower castes — retrieve materials from streets and dump yards to support their families and, on average, earn about $2 a day.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Informal Recyclers: There are an estimated 1.5 million informal waste collectors in India. This is a hazardous and dirty profession but at the same time it provides a service to neighborhoods and cities which are struggling to manage growing levels of waste. But rather than recognize the contributions of informal waste collectors and create for them safer working conditions, they are often marginalized by the authorities and general public. In October, 2010 CHF surveyed a sample of 264 wastepickers in Bangalore. We found that almost all surveyed come from the historically “lower castes” earning between Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 per day. Nearly 47% of them spend more than 50% of their income on food per day, while 92% spent a fourth of their income on health care costs per month. In Bangalore, CHF has been networking informal collectors and creating jobs and enterprises around waste management. CHF is working with Alliance of Indian Wastepickers -- a national network of 35 organizations working with, and comprised of, informal recyclers, waste pickers and/or itinerant buyers -- to mobilize multiple stakeholders and formalize the role of waste collectors in the city’s waste management system, creating a platform to give them a greater voice in policies affecting them. The Rajendra Nagar Slum: With our partner Centre for Social Action, at Christ University in Bangalore, CHF established a women-run enterprise that provides door-to-door waste collection services to 1,300 slum households and 1,500 low-income, non-slum households. We’ve partnered with the local government to replicate this model in other parts of the city. This enterprise manages all the waste of Christ University including pulping all the paper waste and creating new paper products.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

It’s a new way of collecting waste: The Trash to Treasure program provides waste pickers with job opportunity and income generation, while providing a valuable service to their communities, and introducing a new concept of “decentralized” waste management to local authorities. This market-based program provides needed waste collection services in Bangalore while generating income and improving job conditions. Hundreds of informal waste collectors have improved their livelihoods and thousands stand to benefit from greater legitimacy in the industry. In addition, many tons of waste is being recycled that would otherwise pack landfills. Informal waste recyclers are now getting formal recognition by city authorities: The value and legitimacy of informal recyclers work has been largely ignored and often times marginalized across India. For example, in Delhi, waste pickers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 1 million tons a year, according to Chintan, a Delhi-based non-governmental agency. In Bangalore, their recovery and sale of recyclable materials is estimated at 600 tons a day in Bangalore, thereby creates “green jobs” downstream in the processing of these materials and reducing waste going to landfills free of cost to the cities. Even the “unorganized”, “informal” sector can organize and run its own enterprises: This model was piloted under some of the toughest conditions in the slum of Rajendranagar, a community with no formal household collection service. After demonstrating the success, the city of Bangalore will co-invest with CHF in 3 new centers.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

CCHF International’s “Trash to Treasure” program began in 2008 by establishing a recycling center and enterprise of women to provide waste collection service to 1,300 households in the slum of Rajendra Nagar, Bangalore. This initiative introduced a valuable service that the slum community did not previously have, serving as a livelihoods program for some community members. The recycling center and salaries of the women collecting waste door-to-door are paid for by the revenue from monthly household fees and the sale of recyclable materials. Based on the success of these pilots, the city government of Bangalore has seen the benefits of a “decentralized” waste collection model that used recycling centers around the city and they have agreed to co-fund 3 new recycling centers with CHF International. The business model is simple: a) The city provides the land and building costs; b) CHF uses money donated from Caterpillar and the Gates Foundation to kick-start operations; c) The waste pickers' salaries are paid by two fees: a monthly fee from households for collecting waste and fees from selling recyclables and organic waste to larger recyclers. CHF is also expanding its reach to informal recycler--estimated at 15,000 across the city--beyond the vicinity of these recycling centers. Since 2010, CHF has been providing outreach, training and support to informal recyclers in order to help them improve their livelihoods by: 1. Establishing collectives of informal waste collectors to collect and sell recyclables from bulk waste producers; 2. Providing linkages to social and financial services; 3. Providing public awareness and education to communities in Bangalore on importance of recycling and segregating waste at source, which dramatically improves occupational hygiene and recovery of recyclables for informal waste recyclers.
About You
Organization:
CHF International
About You
First Name

Brian

Last Name

English

About Your Organization
Organization Name

CHF International

Organization Country

, MD, Montgomery County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, KA

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

On visiting the slum of Rajendra Nagar, in Bangalore, at the inception of CHF’s SCALE-UP program, Brian English, CHF Country Director in India, and staff learned from the community that waste management was a primary concern. CHF’s team then took on the challenge of designing a system to address waste management, create jobs and improve the livelihoods of those involved. CHF created a market-based model and garnered the support of the local government and local partners to help make the project self-sustainable. Our aim is to give voice to the poor and empower them to take charge of their own development and with the Trash to Treasure program, we are helping waste pickers organize themselves, we are providing them with training and legitimizing their profession, making them agents of change in their own communities.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

By engaging the local government and local NGO partners, the Trash to Treasure program has been able to expand to include more communities served and waste pickers employed. Both the number of households served by the center and the number of women being employed have gradually increased.
• Changing policy: After demonstrating the success of these centers, the city government of Bangalore is ready to co-invest with CHF in three upcoming centers. In addition to changing municipal policy, this program has been able to change behavior toward recycling and change public perception about the people who work in waste picking.

• Number of people employed/income increase: The program has also provided legitimate employment for women who lack job opportunities. CHF has also been networking informal collectors and creating jobs and enterprises around waste management CHF’s partner based at Christ University, Centre for Social Action, CHF established a women-run enterprise that provides door-to-door waste collection services to 1,300 slum households and some 1,500 non-slum households. This enterprise also manages all the waste of Christ University including pulping all the paper waste of the university and creating new paper products. The university launched a zero waste campaign as a result.

• Amount of waste recycled:
• In the Rajendranagar and Ambedkarnagar sorting stations:
o Recyclable waste segregated is average 2400 kg / month
o Biodegradable waste composted is average 600 Kg /month
• Christ University Campus:
o Recyclable waste segregated is average 2000 kg / month
• Paper recycling unit:
o Sale of Paper & Paper Products is average Rs 45000/- per month (last 7 months sale)

How many people have been impacted by your project?

101-1,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

101- 1,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

We aim to have tens of thousands of waste pickers employed and to expand the program to other cities. (We are currently in Bangalore, Pune and Nagpur.) In addition, we will add more households that will be served. With three combined revenue streams -- household collection fees, sales from recyclables and the recycled paper products -- the program hopes to become a self-sustaining social enterprise. As we have done in Bangalore, we plan to formalize the role of waste collectors in the local waste management system and create a platform to give them a greater voice in policies that affect them. We also plan to work with local governments enumerate waste collectors and scrap dealers, which will help create access points for waste collectors to receive government assistance.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Acceptance by the local government could be a barrier but so far, and given the results achieved, the government has been supportive and agreed to fund additional centers. The slow pace of government approvals and implementation of work will be a limitation in how fast we can move together. CHF counteracts this inertia by being ever present at local government meetings and staying on top of officials who approve projects at various stages.

As the program receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Caterpillar Foundation, changes in the funding scenario could also be a threat to the program. By working with local partners, engaging the local government and training the people involved in the project, we hope that the enterprises we created can be self-sustainable in a couple years.

Acceptance of the “informal” sector within officially sanctioned solutions is always a challenge. Despite being a large portion of the industry they are most often marginalized. We have made a huge step forward in getting the local government to officially “enumerate” waste collectors which will recognize they exist.

We will continue to adjust the operations of each recycling center to make sure that it is financially viable. The first enterprise that we set up, called Parivarthana, is viable generating a positive return for the last 7 months. Our partner, Christ University’s sorting centre and paper recycling unit have made more income than expense and are off setting the deficit being run in two other centers they manage in Ambedkarnagar and Rajendragar.

Tell us about your partnerships

a) Local government: The city provides the land and building costs for the centers; CHF is also helping the city government enumerate waste pickers across the city --estimated at 15,000 -- so they can be extended additional services and support;
b) Foundations: CHF uses money donated from Caterpillar Foundation and the Gates Foundation to kick-start operations;
c) Local partner NGOs: Working together and with CHF, these community-based organizations develop new solutions to the problems that they face and overcome them collectively. We work to strengthen local partner organizations to enable them to advocate for and provide better services to the urban poor, while creating employment opportunities.
The economic viability of these recycling units was piloted during the first 2-3 years of the program with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds. Now CHF has leveraged additional funding from the Caterpillar Foundation and the municipal government of Bangalore to open four more recycling centers across the city in the coming year, in addition to the three already established.

CHF focuses on giving a voice to the urban poor. We also seek to bring ideas from one city and transfer them to another, as what we did with the waste collectors of Nagpur and Pune.

Explain your selections

We received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 and were able to leverage this support to secure a grant from the Caterpillar Foundation. With this money, we got the waste center operations running. By engaging local government and NGO partners, the program has been able to expand to include more communities served and waste pickers employed. Both the number of households served and the number of women being employed have gradually increased. In addition to changing municipal policy, we have been able to change behavior toward recycling and public perception about waste collectors. With our partner Centre for Social Action, based at Christ University in Bangalore, CHF established a women-run enterprise that provides door-to-door waste collection services to 1,300 slum households and some 1,500 low-income, non-slum households. We’ve partnered with the local government to replicate this model in other areas. This enterprise manages all the waste of Christ University including pulping all the paper waste of the university and creating new paper products. The university also launched a zero waste campaign.
We have also established an agreement with Alliance of Indian Wastepickers (AIW), a national network of 35 organizations working with, and comprised of, informal recyclers, waste pickers and/or itinerant buyers. CHF is working with AIW to mobilize multiple stakeholders in Bangalore to formalize the role of waste collectors in the city’s waste management system and create a platform to give them a greater voice in policies that affect them.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

In addition to extending our program in the three cities where we currently operate, Bangalore, Nagpur and Pune, we would like take it to different cities in India and to other countries. To date, CHF has facilitated other exchange visits between our programs in Ghana and India, for instance.
Within Bangalore, we plan to increase the number of waste pickers engaged in the project and the number of households benefiting from the recycling centers. By gaining the support of the local Bangalore government we are much more likely to be able to expand this program in the city. By securing the local government support and resources to enumerate informal waste collectors and scrap dealers in the city, for example, we will be able to create access points for them to receive government assistance and even financial services like bank accounts to protect the revolving loans of self help groups we establish.
Hundreds of informal waste collectors have improved their livelihoods through this program and thousands stand to benefit from greater legitimacy in the industry. In addition, many tons of waste is being recycled that would otherwise pack landfills. Our aim is to engage more waste collectors in neighboring slums and expand the services to other communities. We will provide training to the waste collectors on how to recycle waste but also give them training to manage the enterprises we are creating so that they can be self-sustainable.

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Underemployment

SECONDARY

Need for regulatory/policy support

TERTIARY

Lack of skills/training

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

•Underemployment: There are about 1.5 million waste pickers in India retrieving and recycling significant portions of the waste stream. Yet their efforts go unrecognized. By networking them and providing them with training, we improve their revenue.

•Need for regulatory policy: Harassed by authorities and viewed with disdain, these “invisible environmentalists” stand to benefit from more legitimacy within formal waste management systems and society at large; while India stands to benefit from formalizing their role in a growing industry.

•Lack of skills/training: By providing the training they need, we share knowledge and innovation, and bring groups together to work out solutions to each local context, empowering slum-dwellers and waste collectors to run their own enterprises.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

SECONDARY

Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

TERTIARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Spreading Best Practices: After arranging exposure visits for waste pickers and NGO workers between Nagpur and Pune, our Nagpur partners realized the benefits of federating waste collectors to advocate for their inclusion in formal waste management. In 2010, 1,600 of the 9,000 existing collectors were federated.
Expanding Reach to Informal Waste Collectors: Within Bangalore, we plan to increase the number of waste pickers in the project and the number of households served by the centers. By gaining the support of the local government we are more likely to expand.
Expanding the “Decentralized” Model: By successfully piloting and demonstrating the viability of recycling units throughout the city, the government has committed resources to help this model expand.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Each one of these stakeholders has been crucial to the success of the project. We received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 and were able to leverage this support to secure a grant from the Caterpillar Foundation. With this money, we were able to get the waste center operations running. With our partner at Christ University, Centre for Social Action, we established a women-run enterprise providing door-to-door waste collection services to 1,300 slum households and some 1,500 non-slum households on one of our sites. We engaged local NGOs to conduct training and capacity building for informal waste recyclers and partnered with four other local government departments -- who donated the land and the construction costs -- to replicate this model elsewhere the city.