March 2021

A Pathway to Respect, Identity, Dignity and Empowerment

Authored by Varinder Kaur Gambhir, Director Research, BBC Media Action India and Neema Gupta, Research Manager, BBC Media Action India

BBC Media Action is the international charity of the BBC, using media and communication to inform, connect and inspire people around the world. As a part of Saamuhika Shakti, BBC Media Action's project – A Pathway to Respect, Identity, Dignity and Empowerment (PRIDE) - aims to shift perceptions about waste picking and informal waste pickers in the city of Bengaluru. Using a human centered design approach, BBC Media Action's work is rooted in evidence, powered by research insights, and leverages impact-tested, scalable, big ideas to create social and behavior change.

Key insights from BBC Media Action formative research 

1. While the waste on the streets is visible, waste pickers are not

For most people in Bengaluru, there is a lack of awareness and recognition of the ‘humans’ behind the process of waste management. Even though waste on the streets is visible and of concern, informal waste pickers are virtually 'invisible' to most people.

2. People are generally thankful towards formal waste pickers (pourakarmikas), however, there is a high degree of stigma against informal waste pickers 

Majority of the respondents in the study showed sympathy and appreciation towards formal waste collectors with a few showing ignorance about their work too but for the informal waste pickers this ignorance of their work and role in society was starker. When people talked about them it was about their poor physical appearance (55%), lack of education (60%), problems with addictions (42%), homelessness (49%) and a fear that they spread disease (56%).

Our analysis showed that the uniforms worn by the formal waste pickers as well as their regular interactions with households when they collect household waste daily made a noticeable difference to the perceptions of formal waste pickers vis-à-vis informal waste pickers.

Informal waste pickers reported being discriminated against by the general population because of the nature of their work. They said that they sometimes avoid people in order to escape harassment, encouraging their own 'invisibility' as a way of dealing with discrimination, bullying and fear for their own safety.


3. Based on general population’s perceptions towards informal waste pickers, our analysis created three distinct archetypes 

Informal waste pickers are consistently invisible across all three segments. 

  1. Appreciators (29%): When told about the work of informal waste pickers and the value it adds to the city and environment, this segment is grateful for the role informal waste pickers play in society. 
  2. Sympathizers (40%): Those in this segment display a sense of sympathy towards informal waste pickers but this is largely driven by views that reiterate stereotypes like caste and migration than their hazardous work. This section of people rarely recall noticing an informal waste picker, but nonetheless expressed a desire that “more should be done” for the waste picking community. 
  3. Stigmatizers (31%): People in this segment want to distance themselves from the waste picking community and have a strong stigma against them based on the kind of work they are involved in. The views and attitudes of this segment of people are likely to be the hardest to change.

4. The existing hierarchies in the waste management system based on the type of work, add to the invisibility of street waste collectors

Formal waste pickers at the top of the pyramid have contractual or government jobs, decent salary, regular working hours and interact with general populations regularly. Sorters at dry waste collection centres, though a part of informal waste management ecosystem, are a part of a relatively formal structure with minimum wages but decent work hours. Sorters at scrap shops and itinerant buyers have limited visibility and interactions with general populations, but it is the free-roaming street waste pickers who are the most invisible and discriminated against. They work at odd hours (early mornings, or late nights) to avoid being seen and to get access to the most lucrative waste. Most fear harassment by police or general populations as well. 

5. Female waste pickers face additional concerns around personal safety and harassment 

Female waste pickers face abuse by men in their neighborhoods as well as violence at home. Consequently, they often resort to wearing dirty clothes while working to avoid attention and harassment. In addition, they find the work physically exhausting as it requires them to walk with heavy sacks for long distances, while they are often still also responsible for cooking, cleaning and caring for their own families at home.

Key Target Groups for Research

- Social Media Users | General population of Bengaluru

- Waste Pickers | Informal waste pickers and their families + formal waste pickers

- Waste Management Stakeholders | Key influencers within the waste management sector in Bengaluru

Research Methodology

BBC Media Action commissioned Karvy Insights to undertake this formative research to understand current perceptions about the waste picker community among the people of Bengaluru and to comprehend challenges faced by waste pickers. All ethical requirements including IRB approval and ensuring robust data protection protocols were followed while conducting research. 

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