Experiences on the Way

IGG - Field Stories

The journey was surely exciting and had some memorable experiences. Here are a few of them. 

IGG Experiences

The waste picker is one of us

Ravi, a waste picker, was part of the first direct waste picker run waste collection model we’ve set up in the early days. He did the job diligently and was aware of the waste management process. One fine day we got a call from a nearby ward that Ravi was dumping the segregated garbage at a vacant plot near the ward. Everyone was appalled as the reason they’ve hired Ravi was to ensure that the garbage is not dumped in vacant lands but was taken to the waste collection centers. So, we go there and have close to four hours of conversation about Ravi’s life, his story, context and the conditions in which he lived. Despite everything, if we look at the likes of Ravi, there are the only ones in India who actually are driving recycling without knowing that they are doing a useful service. For them, they are doing it only to keep the body and soul together. 

After the conversation, the residents told us that “Ravi is not your problem anymore. We know that he is doing a great service for us which we ourselves were not doing properly. He made a mistake, but he is now one of us. We will coach him, educate him, take care of his needs and ensure that he lives up to all our expectations. He is ours and our brethren and not just a waste picker.” 

It’s been three years now and Ravi continues to serve the same locality with dignity.

The residents could’ve asked us to replace the waste picker or go back to the usual ways of dumping the garbage in vacant lands. However, they’ve owned the waste management issue and decided to solve it themselves. Experiences such as these have the capacity to make societies inclusive where everyone lives with dignity.

IGG Experiences

Garbage mafia to a waste management partner

We had a very interesting experience with the Garbage Mafia in a small Indian town with one and a half lakh population. When you think of garbage mafia, you might think of someone with hundreds of acres of land, huge clout, and several trucks. While it might be true in urban India, rural India has a different story.

We went to that village and had a conversation with the chairman of the Nagar Nigam and explained to him the concept of IGG and the model. They were excited and agreed to try the solution. Later in the afternoon, we went and met the garbage mafia. We found this garbage mafia with a guy owning two tractors. Once we were able to explain that waste segregation would mean more business for even this person. The garbage mafia saw an opportunity to use the waste picker as the last mile worker and transform mafia to be a transport agency for total waste management. By the time we finished our ‘chai’ the garbage mafia transformed into a waste manager for the village and partnered with the waste pickers.

Today, He uses his two tractors, one for dry waste and the other for the wet waste. He does a night run to transport the reject waste. He buys the segregated waste from the waste pickers and recycles it. There is no more garbage mafia, but a respected waste manager who keeps the village clean and provides dignified livelihood to several waste pickers and recycling managers.

IGS Experiences

Burning lungs to burning desire

This experience was in a small city in central India. I had gone to do scouting to start operations and as part of some site visits, I wandered into a landfill. I walked in without realizing that the landfill was burning. It was actually full of smoke and not really burning in flames. I walked into it for about three hundred meters and started feeling my lungs burning. I rushed back with the help of a colleague who had to almost drag me out. The heaviness in breathing was there and the doctors recommended steam inhalations to clear the lungs. I was okay in a day or two and forgot about the incident.

A couple of months later, as part of the regular checkups, I’ve realized that my hemoglobin was way up than the normal levels. Once again, I sat down with the doctors and was asked the routine questions if I were a smoker. As it was none of that, further investigations were done. The landfill incident suddenly dawned up on me and I told the doctor about it. He promptly finished the tests and gave a plan to up the cardio and bring the lungs back to normal. In a few weeks, the issue sorted itself out.

It was just a fifteen-minute exposure that caused near trauma to me and my family. Imagine people living close by those landfills. The situation is even worse for the children and adults who still go to those landfills, pick the waste and inhale the same smoke every day.

This experience makes us realize that we are dealing with serious issues as we don’t do a simple task of segregating the waste at our homes and ensure that it directly goes to the recycling centers.

Experiences, such as these help us strengthen our desire to solve such issues at a grassroots level and make the waste pickers an inclusive part of the society.

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