Local actress-host Eunice Olsen highlights waste pickers’ plight in India


SINGAPORE — There are about three billion people around the world who live without proper waste disposal, and marginalised people in countries like Pakistan and India who make a living on picking thrash – they’re waste pickers, a community of people who’ve made some significance in gaining recognition for the job they do.


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Local actress-host and former Nominated MP (NMP) Eunice Olsen made a trip to Bengaluru, India for about four days to highlight the waste pickers’ plight, and to learn in detail their day-to-day tasks as part of The Body Shop’s Community Trade campaign, in partnership with Plastics for Change. The beauty brand aims to drive social change and will be using recycled plastics as part of their product packaging.

We are waste pickers but we don’t waste anything.

India alone has 1.5 million waste pickers who collect and sort over 6,000 tonnes of plastic every day that would otherwise pollute our rivers and oceans. The majority of India’s waste pickers are Dalits, previously known as ‘untouchables’. This means that they have virtually no visibility in society and have limited rights. They are vulnerable to discrimination, poor living and working conditions and an unpredictable payment system for the plastic they collect.

Eunice Olsen at an aggregation center in India. (PHOTO: The Body Shop)

“I have been picking waste for around 30 years, since I was a child. This is a really tough and physically demanding industry to be in. Waste pickers face all kinds of hardships, including harassment, late payments and health issues. However, through waste picking I have managed to raise a family and send my children to college. I am really proud of what I do. I believe we play a very important role in keeping cities clean and helping to recycle the huge amounts of plastic waste that society produces.” Annamma, former waste picker and current Dry Waste Collection Centre Manager, Bengaluru.

It took four days for Eunice to digest the environment she was immersed in: “I met with waste pickers, segregation centers, and social enterprises that make up the community trade recycle programme, and the one quote I remember one of the waste pickers, Veereema told me was, ‘We are waste pickers but we don’t waste anything.’”

Hasiru Dala is a social enterprise that helps waste pickers get identification card that recognises them as formal workers. They negotiate driveway lands with the government and create a sustainable business model. Plastic for Change come in as a mobile app platform, that registers waste pickers so brands like The Body Shop can track the registries and pricing, and ensure fair wages to workers.

Plastic bottles that have been segregated brought to aggregation centers like Hasiru Dala, where specific specifications for certain plastics can be sorted, compressed and sent to The Body Shop factories in Europe for processing and recycling. The brand aims to purchase 250 tonnes of Community Trade recycled plastics to use in three million 250ml haircare bottles by the end of 2019.


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