The waste collection and material recycling activities in developing countries, including India, are majorly performed by the informal waste sector. Reportedly, 30–60 percent of all paper and cardboard, 50–80 percent of all plastic and nearly 100 percent of all glass bottles manufactured in India are recycled with the interventions of the informal sector in India. This sector in waste management is apparently unorganized but a super-efficient contributor to the circular economy's and helps achieve the UN sustainable development goals.
It has been recognized that absence of clear and comprehensive laws and policies to protect the right of waste pickers in India continues to be a challenge. There is an urgent need to frame and implement a uniform policy for the waste pickers to secure their livelihoods and welfare, recognizing and integrating them into the waste management chain. The law must include basic provisions related to mandatory identity cards, access to waste for collection, segregation, and sorting, access to personal protective equipment to minimize occupational hazards, the right to necessities like water, sanitation, and facilities for clean living insurance. The enabling mechanism to formalize the informal sector includes the formation of waste picker member-based organizations, designing an appropriate model for integration, formation of an authority to integrate the informal sector, training and awareness campaigns, allocation of working space and other facilities to the waste pickers and kabadiwalas along with provisions for their financial inclusion.
This report makes a case for the integration of the informal sector into the formal waste management chain so that the muscle memory of India's brilliant workforce can synergize with a new policy roadmap to achieve a paradigm shift in waste management.