IT began as an effort to provide dignity to some of the rag-pickers in Kolkata four years ago, and quickly developed into an effective urban waste collection and recycling model that is now helping avoid over 500 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions every year.
The Trash2Cash initiative in Kolkata by the South Asia Forum for Environment has been selected as one of the winners of the Momentum For Change programme run by the UN Climate organisation (UNFCCC) for its innovative work in securing livelihoods and ensuring respect for urban poor while also contributing to climate objectives.
The initiative collects and recycles over 1,000 kg of waste paper every month besides composting 2,000 kg of food and organic waste. More than 300 women in the slums have been trained to make handicrafts from the recycled paper which helps them in earning between Rs 5,000 and 10,000 every month. The food compost is sold as manure and generates some extra revenue for the organisation.
“The idea came when we saw entire families spending hours on a landfill site in east Kolkata that is actually an important wetland. These rag-pickers, mostly migrants from the Sunderbans and Purulia district, tried to collect something useful that would fetch them about Rs 15 to Rs 30 a day,” said Amrita Chatterjee, who along with her colleague Chiranjit Chatterjee is in Lima to receive the award. “We spoke to some corporate houses to let their waste be directly collected by the rag-pickers. Vodafone was the first to agree. After some time it recommended us to other companies as well. We provided uniforms, shoes, gloves and identity cards to these rag-pickers. We also spoke to the companies to treat these people with respect,” she said.
“Now we have a very small number of people collecting the waste. They have a vehicle and go on designated days to companies and other places to collect the waste. The rest of the people, mainly women, who used to be rag-pickers are involved in more useful activity like making handicrafts out of the recycled paper waste and earning a dignified living,” she said.
Trash2Cash initiative is just one of the three social enterprises that has been recognised by the Momentum for Change programme this year. Bhungroo, a successful water management model in the villages of Gujarat, and a community-based flood warning system in the hilly areas of Assam are also among the winners.