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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.