“Taking all the dirt upon themselves, they make our surroundings much cleaner. Working hard day and night, to earn a few pennies for a night’s dinner.”

Waste pickers or rag collectors as they are called, are the key to keeping our environments clean. They are our treasure. But do we treat them like one? Do we believe in the dignity of labour?

SWaCH, India's first wholly-owned cooperative of self-employed waste-pickers is a waste management organisation that works towards improving the living conditions of the waste collectors, along with a focus on sustainable SWM. They provide front-end waste management services to the citizens of Pune with the help of ‘SWaCH Sathi’. 

Through Sustain Talks platform, a young change maker at Sustain and Save, Nikhil Thakur got in conversation with Suchismita Pai, an Outreach head at SWaCH.

A freelance writer, a journalist by qualification, Suchismita Pai is a socially responsible individual. “Waste is more valuable when it is segregated at source”, says Mrs. Pai. In this highly developed and fast-paced life, no one is concerned about waste management. No one contemplates what happens to the waste thrown away. Very few understand that something that’s ‘waste’ for us can be ‘treasure’ for others. With this ideology, SWaCH with their members and PMC collect waste systematically and in a well-defined manner to ease the further use of the disposals. Door-to-door collection (DTDC) format is practised to have direct contact and accountability between the waste generators and collectors. Also, as a part of the waste-trail program, they take all the enthusiast from vivid backgrounds, of all age groups to see the net result of the waste dumped. The entire waste management journey is explained. This user- fee-based model has attracted waste pickers as they get ‘value’, ‘respect’, and ‘identity’ which otherwise is not received. 

Along with creating a community, SWaCH also contributes towards a sustainable and green lifestyle. A very interesting project they have been working on is, creation of 3D printer recyclable filament. Such thoughtful and environment-friendly actions is what the society needs. Another cautious and admirable project they carry out every year is Nirmalaya. It’s an initiative that focuses on collecting organic waste along the ghats and preventing it from entering the water bodies.

It’s rightly said, ‘different needs are met by different people working together’. Seeing SWaCH generating a sense of empathy, holding on to the element of sustainability, recognising the local authorities, educating the swachsathis and their children, sets us thinking, what are we doing for our mother earth? Is the planet we live on not worth changing for? 

“Sustainability is not about one action by one individual. It’s about many actions and many individuals coming together” is an important learning Suchismita Pai has got over her years of experience. So let’s re-define our way of living. Let’s renovate the products and services being used. Let’s be responsible citizens. Let’s Act and not just speak or watch.

Let’s all come together and be change-makers in our own and at our levels to keep our environment SWaCH/ and make this world a better place to be.

By : Riya Nathe | ChangeMaker