Hidden in corners of the world lie countless waste facilities, sprawled across hundreds of acres, these dumps intake thousands of tonnes of garbage daily. With this growth of garbage collection worldwide, waste pickers have emerged in countries like India, scavenging, collecting and living off the garbage piles.
One company, in particular, Gemcorp Recycling, has found a way to utilize this community to obtain recyclable material in the waste facilities as well as recognize the importance of reclaimers or waste pickers in India and other parts of the globe. Gemcorp is supporting waste pickers by providing health care and proper documentation so they may see benefits and support from the Indian government.
The World of Waste Picking
Around the world, nearly 20 million people sift through and sell materials others have thrown away. Waste pickers typically rummage garbage on the streets, in neighborhoods and at large landfill sites. Typically, waste pickers are rummaging for sellable materials or items necessary for their livelihood.
The term ‘waste picker’ emerged in 2008 in Columbia. Although this name is the most common, many countries prefer to use their established name: reclaimers, scavengers, bagerazi, canners, etc.
Waste pickers contribute to local economies, environmental sustainability and public health and safety. Although this community plays an important role in many countries’ ecosystems, it often has a low social status and receives little to no government support.
Deonar’s Rubbish Mountain
Located near Mumbai, India, an astronomical 16 million tonnes of trash exists across 300 acres, making up Deonar’s rubbish mountain – one of the largest garbage landfill sites in the world. In this landfill, waste reaches as high as 120 feet and releases hazardous gasses such as methane and carbon monoxide into the air, contributing largely to India’s air pollution.
A 26-year active court case has been underway to close the Deonar landfill, but the country faces the question of finding a different source to dispose of garbage. With a population of 1.3 billion people, this is a difficult task. The country has started to turn to waste pickers, who have been scavenging the area for years. Estimates have stated that there are 3 million waste pickers in India alone, with a large percentage visiting Deonar’s rubbish mountain every day. This community plays a vital role in the waste ecosystem of India.
As the human population grows, so does human waste, and with more waste, more waste pickers emerge. As the community grows, so do the tasks, responsibilities and expectations of the lifestyle. Located in the heart of Deonar’s rubbish mountain, one company is working to simultaneously utilize and support these workers.
In 2019, Gemcorp, or Gemini Corporation, began a recycling program to establish legitimate recycling within one of the world’s largest waste landfills, Deonar’s rubbish mountain.
“Gemcorp seeks to strengthen the plastic recycling ecosystem in a fair and equitable way with a strong focus on efficient logistics, provision of finance for working capital, upliftment, education, and on-ground action.” Through supporting reclaimers, Gemcorp aims to recycle more than 50,000 tonnes of plastic by 2025.
The company provides waste pickers in India, renamed “reclaimers” with recycling machinery and sanitation equipment to properly begin recycling the 79% of recyclable materials that end up in the garbage. The main equipment that the company uses is commercial grade balers, which can help compress materials for easy storing, shipping or redistribution with more ease.
Gemcorp recognized the importance of waste pickers and began the program, Gemcorp Recycling, to provide resources and health care to waste pickers and their families. The first step the company took was to ensure safety both within the work site and at home. Gemcorp is supporting waste pickers by creating government IDs, making provisions for clean drinking water, banning child labor and opening bank accounts for their new employees.
Starting with just 10 reclaimer employees, Gemcorp has grown to uplift approximately five families a week, working with nearly 1,000 by 2022 and aims to reach 2000 by 2025. Since its initial endeavor in 2019, several other countries and companies have mimicked these practices.
Today, we see many waste pickers around the world scavenging for recyclable materials. Gemcorp represents a positive shift in the world’s waste ecosystem and supports a community that may just play a vital role in waste management.
– Sierra Winch