India’s largest cooperative of waste pickers turns 300 tonnes of waste into wealth annually

Right in the residential outskirts of Aundh, Pune, lies a small collection centre owned by Pune-based cooperative SWaCH. This centre came into existence in 2011, led by Geeta Phatak, one of the 3668 members of SWaCH. It resembles a departmental store. It has everything from clothes to crockery and collectables. From kettles to sneakers. With one small difference. These are all secondhand materials brought in and sold by the rag-picking community of Pune.

India has over 377 million urban people living in towns and cities. According to Central Pollution Control Board data, urban India generates around 56 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per annum of which 40-50% is not processed and eventually ends up in dumpsites. A significant share of the discarded materials from urban households that end up in a landfill can be either reused or recycled. SWaCH turns more than 300 tonnes of such discarded materials into wealth annually. This is their story.