Can’t sell, can’t burn: Waste workers struggle with plastic wrappers

Location IconNorth West Delhi district, Delhi

Shayra Bano lives next to the Bhalswa landfill in Delhi, which is the second-largest dumping site in the city. Like everyone else in her neighbourhood, she is an informal waste picker and her livelihood is dependent on sorting and selling the waste that arrives in Bhalswa. These workers are a vital part of the waste recycling system in India.  

In Shayra Bano’s neighbourhood, one can see heaps of plastic wrappers and rubber chappals everywhere. “We used to burn this waste to dispose it or to start a fire during the winter. Awareness campaigns taught us that burning plastic is bad for our health since we breathe the same air. However, now we can neither sell these wrappers nor burn them. We sweep the roads and pile this waste up on the side,” says Shayra Bano. Wrappers such as chips packets are hard to recycle because they are multilayered plastics and carry food residue. In addition to this, they run the risk of clogging the processing machinery. Recycling these kinds of plastics can thus be an expensive endeavour and not one that many participate in.

The plastics also take a long time to decompose and the dye released from the same produces a bad odour in the water. “This waste is clogging our drains, and eventually polluting the rivers and the seas,” says Shayra Bano.

But she has a solution. “The companies that sell products in these wrappers should also take the responsibility of recycling them. They should speak with the public and come up with a way.”  

As told to IDR.

Shayra Bano is a member of Safai Sena, a union for informal waste workers in Delhi.

Know more: Learn why waste workers in Bengaluru are demanding better policies.

Do more: Connect with Shayra Bano at [email protected] to learn more about and support her work.


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