Rag Pickers in India

Topics: Waste, Waste management, Biodegradable waste Pages: 11 (3696 words) Published: March 18, 2013



Over fifteen lakh individuals across India work as scrap and waste collectors, earning their livelihood from the collection and sale of paper, plastic, metal and glass scrap to recycling industries. Among the most disadvantaged, vulnerable and underprivileged class in the urban labour market, occupying the lowest rung of the poverty groups, is the class of rag pickers. This dynamic but unregulated sector in the expanding economy depends directly on retrieving waste for their livelihood. The word rag picking has no precise meaning. However, it has been defined as a refuse occupation, which can support people when they have no other opportunity for earning. More precisely, the rag or paper picker is defined as one ‘who makes his/her livelihood by picking up waste paper, plastic, rags, bottles, tins, metal pieces, discarded and broken containers from road side dustbins, streets, garbage heaps and sells them to nearby retailers. Rag picking is one of the most inferior economic activities in the urban informal sector, largely undertaken by children belonging to weaker sections of the society, for the survival and for supplementing their family income.


India’s booming urbanization brings the problem of waste management. As more and more people are migrating towards the cities, the amount of waste is increasing at a high pace and waste management is likely to become a critical issue in the coming years. Rag pickers play an important, but usually unrecognised role in the waste management system of Indian cities. They collect garbage in search of recyclable items that can be sold to scrap merchant (paper, plastic, tin...) This activity require no skills and is a source of income for a growing number of urban poor. There are two types of scrap-collectors: the rag pickers, mostly women, who collect garbage on dumping grounds, in residential areas or in street bins, and the itinerant buyers who purchase scrap directly from households, offices and shops. Most of the itinerant buyers are male and they typically require a certain amount of capital to purchase scrap.


The Rag pickers can be categorized, on the basis of collection peculiarity, into three groups, •The major portion of this group consists of collectors collecting rags out of community dustbins, garbage heaps, open streets, market places and near railway stations and bus stands (inside not allowed). The major portion of this group consists of boys or men. •The second group of collectors is made up of girls who like to work in groups or accompany their mothers instead of going alone, to pick rags on the street, because of constant fear of sexual abuse by adult male and older male child Rag pickers. They mainly depend on municipal and industrial garbage dumps to collect waste and sell them to merchants or second hand goods dealers, daily or weekly. The collectors thoroughly clean the dirty materials before selling them to fetch a higher price. •The third group comprises of women or girls working as domestic servants and collect rags from the homes they work. The Rag pickers pick out all the discarded pieces of broken glass, used plastic, quality paper and packing paper. Iron scraps, tablet papers, bottles, ferrous metals, tissue paper, foam, wood, cutlery, jewellery, shoes, clothes, cardboards, hard plastics such as combs, buckets, boxes, footwear, and rubber, wood and a variety of resalable material for recycling from waste. For Rag pickers there are no fixed hours of work. They go for collection whenever they find time. They normally start at 5 am, before the streets are cleaned by the municipal...
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