The Role Of Rag Pickers In Indian Society


Waste disposal and waste management is drawing everyone’s attention as the land area is getting covered and now health concern and a sustainable life is the demand of the hour. Urbanization and rapid growth in population has made it more difficult to cope up with the issue of waste disposal. Stable & healthy lifestyle, sanitized and clean society are demanded but the main challenge is the development of efficient and effective model for the waste management. One of the crucial factor in waste management is segregation of waste. Waste segregation is important as each waste needs to be composed in different way by different methods. Growing industries generating industrial waste, household waste, plastic waste and medical waste all needs to be treated separately, otherwise could lead to hazardous diseases. Another challenge that needs to be covered is ensuring the safety and health condition of the segregators working on the field.

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Even with development of the societies, increased living standards & awareness among the citizens about environmental issues, it has been difficult to achieve what was required for the issue. Gradually the waste generated has started to fill the land areas and maximum of it has not been treated as per the required standards with can cause potential disaster. It is important to realize the threat we our generating for our self and for the future generation. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better placed then what our ancestors provided us and that is how is going to be better with each passing generation.

This report discuss the about a corporative (NGO) named SWaCH, which has developed a sustainable model for waste management and segregation and simultaneously ensure the safety of the segregators of waste. SWaCH worked in collaboration with Pune Municipality Corporation and has brought rag pickers under one roof and made it realize that how important their role is to the Society. It has successfully been able to form a model which is sustainable and efficient. SWaCH had to face many challenges like providing identification to all rag pickers, motivating them to perform their role in an organized manner. SWaCH quantify the waste pickers, granted their rights, and secured their finances, improved their living standards. It focused on the source of the waste generation points like house hold and industries and started collecting waste directly from the source. PMC helped the SWaCH in financing their administration and allocated multiple spots for the waste segregation. PMC also provided gears required for ensuring the safety of the workers and got their medical insurance covered. SWaCH provided a handling door to door service. It aim to make Pune, a container free city. It has integrated approx. 3500 waste pickers collecting waste from 800,000 houses and industries collecting 70,000 Tons of recyclable waste every year and saving 100Core to PMC.

Primary Research

SWaCH Coop was contacted on their official mail ID to get the insight info about the organization. Specific details were asked regarding the functioning of the organization, how they are able to sustain financially, challenges faced by the organization, motivation deriving factors, parameters that affect the functioning of this organization and many such. On further follow up an interview was schedule with one of the members of SWaCH. Mrs. Suchismita Pai, an employee & co-owner of SWaCH. On meeting her, we came to realize that SWaCH is a wholly-owned workers’ cooperative. She highlighted the issues that they face for the administration and she also told about the history of SWaCH, on how SWaCH came into existence.


In 1993, waste pickers or rag pickers formed a union called Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP). A membership based trade union with an aim to showcase the contribution of their workers and members in the society and towards the environment. KKPKP had maximum number of women as worker or people from socially backward and marginalized castes. It’s focused on improving their livelihood as they worked towards improving the livelihood of the society.

The first priority of the union was to provide recognition and identification to all its workers. Members were given I-cards from the PMC and this process helped the employees to get benefits from banks and other social amenities for themselves and for their children. Quantification was done on the bases of I-Cards which made it easier to organize all administration work.

In 2000, MSW laws were passed for segregation and treatment of waste, SWaCH came into existence which provided waste handling service – it goes door to door (DTDC) in the community to collect waste and the user will have to pay a small sum of money to these workers. SWaCH model made sure the recovery of these payments and avail infrastructure to these workers for segregation of waste with collaboration with PMC.

SWaCH become operational in 2006/2008 with 1500 waste pickers in the Pune as its pilot project. It improved the condition of waste pickers and they also realized that they have become a part of something big and organized instated of wondering place to place. This provide crucial for the government as it saved crores to the local bodies.

What does SWaCH do?

Door to door collection of waste is an important service offered by SWaCH to Pune’s citizens. SWaCH also offers other products, programmes and services through SWaCH Plus, which aims to involve citizens in recycling and sustainable living.

  1. SWaCH is a door to door service provider for collection and segregation of waste for Pune citizens. Its objective is to make society 100% waste free, by involving citizens and developing a sustainable living. SWaCH has focused on different functional areas. Following are those:
  2. Collection of MLP waste: Multi-layered plastics have layered compositions and it’s difficult to reuse. Its examples are chips packets, chocolate wrapper etc. ITC with SWaCH has started a program where they are recycling these plastics.
  3. V-Collect – Its collection of products like clothes, furniture, electronic items etc. which could be used again. Some of the products and fixed or repaired if it could be. These products are again resold to poor or urban poor at nominal price.
  4. Recycling Trails: It’s a drive where students, employees etc. go for a walk along with the SWaCH employee. It’s more of a like field trip where they accompany the waste picker and go door to door for collection of waste. It’s done to make them realize that it’s just not waste collection but an essential need for sustainability.
  5. Red-Dot Awareness – It focuses on collection of sanitary waste or medical waste. It targets the safe disposal of dirty pads and diapers. This was requested from the field worker because they are exposed to many hazardous conditions. It also responsible for training workers on how to handle this waste.
  6. Composting service – Providing the expertise and infrastructure services which also included installation of facilities. It is for residential and commercial spaces providing pits for composing and reinforced polymer bins, providing coco-peat and safety materials.
  7. E- Collection – Authorized center for disposing electronic and electrical devices. It assures the mandatory requirements are full filled while disposing this type of waste as per mention in rules of e- waste management. It is the first e-waste collection of Pune.

Lessons Learnt

  1. Sustainable and self-sustaining waste management model development. Entrepreneurial workforce for the efficient and effective system.
  2. Importance of classifying the waste into different groups, since each type of waste has its own composing method.
  3. Administration distribution at different level of hierarchy, resulting in organized and accountable functioning.
  4. Treating the waste at its source, the waste is segregated at the source itself into dry and wet. This helps in better handling services and further processing is easy.
  5. Health risk involved in handling medical waste. Hence different approach in disposing it.
  6. Recycling the recyclable products and reusing the reusable products.

Literature Review

This report focuses on an NGO named SWaCH and its functions. Different literatures were studied to understand the current scenario with increase in urbanization, challenges faced in developing a sustainable model. Article named “Challenges and opportunities associated with waste management in India” by Sunil Kumar &Stephen R. Smith. It reviewed the challenges and opportunities which could be faced or generated from SWM. It was output result derived from the international seminar on Sustainable-SWM for urban cities in countries who were member of SAARC. Seminar was held in Nagpur, India in 2015. Another article by Sudha Goel on “Municipal Solid Waste Management” which highlight the issue of generation of waste at a much higher rate than disposing rate. This report has discussed different aspects and flaws with the current existing system like financial model, treatment methods, multiple bodies or models working simultaneously without any synchronization. Similar kind of study done by Sonam Sahu in article named “Review on Solid Waste Management Practice in India: A State of Art”. It gives an insight on surveyed data of metropolitan city like Delhi, which is generating double the waste than it is disposing. Unethical practices are done and the waste is harming the environment. SWaCH has a pilot project in Pune which has developed a model which cover some of the issues mentioned above. This model too had some back lash because of which the pilot program was terminated in 2011 but again in 2016 it got started and is running successfully with a mission of transforming Pune into Zero waste generating city.


India being a developing county, growth in urbanization is happening at a much faster rate and with urbanization, generation of waste is also exceeding. Each city should develop a model for SWM similar to SWaCH. This would reduce the administrative load from the government and awareness among citizens will also increase. For a sustainable society, citizens has to show their willingness too. Following points should be considered while developing a SWM model:

  1. Entrepreneurial Workforce: For efficient and high performance work. Workforce will be motivated as the income generated will depend upon the work quality they provide.
  2. Livelihood of Waste pickers: Their livelihood and their health should be the first priorities as they are contributing to these work and they play a crucial role.
  3. Segregation @ Source: Separating the waste to its source is essential as all waste mix could cause poisonous or harmful product and segregation makes the work easier for the workers.
  4. Infrastructure: Separate places or spot near collection areas for waste segregation, which should be restricted and have controlled environment.
  5. Medical Waste: Disposal of medical waste and waste like sanitary pads and baby diapers should be disposed separately because it could cause serious illness.
  6. Awareness Programs: Workshops or site visits should be conducted so making people aware about SWM.


  4. file:///M:/sem2/RM%20project/Project/MSWM-review-2008.pdf
07 July 2022

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