Colombia to Pune: To connect with ragpickers

I have been collecting,rather ‘picking my way’ ,through garbage bins searching for recyclable paper,plastic,and other scrap ever since I was seven years old.

Written by Rohan Swamy | Pune | Published:January 19, 2009 1:25 am

I have been collecting,rather ‘picking my way’ ,through garbage bins searching for recyclable paper,plastic,and other scrap ever since I was seven years old. My parents,grandparents,brothers and sisters were all in this business. We used to scrounge garbage dumps,landfills and streets so that we could eke a living out of it,” says Nohra Padilla,a ragpicker who has come all the way from Bogotá,Colombia to interact with the ragpickers in the city.

Speaking about her experiences in Bogotá she says,“When I was small,the waste collectors,(also called as recycladores) worked in unhygienic conditions. We had to also go to the Bogotá City Dump — to collect waste paper,plastic and other things — which was a filthy stretch of land. We had lodged an agitation against the government and eventually got them to incorporate ragpickers in the recycling chain in 1987.”

Nohra is also the head of the Recycladores Association of Bogotá (ARB) which works towards ensuring that ragpickers also benefit from the recycling of waste and garbage.

The Association ensures that waste is collected in a much hygienic way. The ragpickers are provided with safety equipment while collecting waste,she says.

“Close to 55 per cent of the people in Colombia live below poverty line. Out of these,close to 55,000 are ragpickers who are now officially recognised by the government,” she adds. On her trip to Pune she says,“We are basically studying the problems that are faced by ragpickers around the world. Most prominent amongst the problems are health hazards,bad living conditions,and lack of organised waste management systems. We hope to compile it all into a set of documents that we can present to the various governments so that they take notice and work to improve the conditions of the ragpickers.”

Interacting with the ragpickers of the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat she says,“It has been an experience to see these people work so hard. Even with the little resources available,they not only manage to set up an organisation but work without complaining. One of the most important things that has touched me is the fact that these people have a huge amount of mutual respect not only for one another but also for the work that they do.”

“They should be given equipment like masks,gloves,boots etc while on duty. They should start segregating garbage so that it is much more easier for them to collect different types of garbage products. They should have access to companies that recycle the products so that they can directly sell the refuse to them.”

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