The luncheon was hosted by Project Hilldaari as a token of appreciation for waste pickers and also to bring attention to the work these workers do—their importance, role and struggles. It took place on 1st March, marked as International Waste Pickers’ Day, in four tourist cities of India – Mussoorie, Ponda, Munnar and Mahabaleshwar

Project Hilldaari is an initiative of Nestle India with partner organisations Stree Mukti Sangathan and Recity Network, and is currently operational in six tourist cities, the aim being to build efficient plastic waste-management systems. As per the press release shared with CauseBecause, the project has so far facilitated the diversion of 15,070 metric tons of waste from landfills and is progressively working towards professionalising 554 waste collectors and informal waste pickers through a multi-collaborative approach with municipal councils, citizens, contractors, waste workers and influencers. The project has also reached out to 35,976 residents, educating them on the importance of waste segregation and no-littering behaviour.

At the lunch event, waste pickers were provided with occupational ID cards and were enrolled on e-Shram portal – this will enable them to get access to social security schemes/welfare schemes of the central government. The event also served as a platform for engagement for waste pickers and urban local bodies addressing their challenges and concerns. 

Babita, a waste picker from Mussoorie who was at the event, said, ‘We are grateful to the Project Hilldaari team for this initiative. Their efforts led us to organise and form a self-help group (SHG) in Mussoorie. Currently, we are exploring alternative sources of income using waste as a resource, and the team is helping us with necessary training and business plan.’ 

On the sidelines of the event, Charu Madan, senior manager, Waste Worker Professionalisation, Recity Network, said, ‘Waste pickers play a crucial role in the Indian recycling industry. Important national policies and laws including SWM 2016 Rules recognise these informal workers and prescribe to make solid waste management systems more participatory, inclusive and decentralised. They talk about their integration into the formal waste-collection system, granting them legal recognition to prevent harassment and marginalisation. We have a commitment to ensure the implementation of policy, creating avenues for them to initiate dialogue with urban local bodies, and live their life with dignity, respect and financial independence.’ 

India is home to over four million waste pickers, who account for almost 20 per cent recycling of the country’s waste. This unpaid and unrecognised workforce help our cities remain litter-free and conserve natural resources. Their efforts save our cities money by minimising the amount of material disposed of in landfills.