Hard Work, Difficult Circumstances

Until yesterday, it was the celebrities predominantly from sports and movie industries who were portrayed as heroes of our world. Today, everybody is finally realizing and rightfully hailing the frontline workers as the real heroes of today, who are risking their lives to keep essential supplies and services available. Unfortunately, many of them also form a major portion of the population that are most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nalu – Village committee transports donation of brooms in a waste collection vehicle

Among them, one generous section of our key frontline workers is the waste collectors, especially in a densely populated country like India. The waste collectors are handling potentially hazardous waste. Countless waste collectors or sanitation workers are engaged in the work of cleaning and collecting waste at nearly every house, every premise and every street across the country. The lack of protective equipment and difficult working conditions makes their already challenging lives especially challenging and dangerous by exposing themselves to the risk of disease. This moving letter by the Alliance of the Indian Wastepickers to India’s PM requests the fulfillment of basic demands while they discharge their duties during such challenging times to help keep us all safe.

Chhota Narena – Village residents purchasing 2-bin sets for waste segregation pre-pandemic

Barefoot College has always revered the role of waste collectors in society and recognized the challenges they face. At Barefoot College, we realized the need for both:

  1. The dignity of the waste collection staff
  2. The indispensable role of waste management in preserving our environment

We have established waste management practices on Barefoot College campus and in a few nearby villages, currently supported with the help of our admirable waste collection and segregation staff. We constantly aim to increase the number of villages where we can help inaugurate such sustainable practices.

Barefoot’s process overview for Waste Management programs

Transforming Waste Management in Dignified Work

We are continuously spreading awareness to the importance of the work accomplished by our waste collection and segregation staff. We ensure dignified livelihoods for our staff by making sure that every household puts in the effort of segregating their waste at source before giving it away to the waste collectors. That is first and foremost how we can be respectful and caring towards the people dedicated to serving us.

Together, we’re working to improve waste segregation, enabling recovery of as many resources as possible and minimizing the waste that goes to landfill. With the help of our heroes in our waste management team like Ramlal, Ramakishan, Gyana, Kishan, Kamla, Ramesh and Gulla Ram to name a few, we sort through waste to segregate and sell recyclables, and compost food waste locally which enrich our soils. Dually, this helps generate revenue for our workers. It is only with the help of our diligent waste management staff that we’re able to preserve our environment and keep our air, water and soils healthy.

Chhota Narena – First family to start correctly segregating their waste into wet and dry- helping out waste collectors

For Planet and For People

The destruction of the environment due to lack of such reclamation of resources from waste has led to the encroachment and destruction of animal habitats and biodiversity for more resources, significantly contributing towards epidemics like COVID-19. It’s imperative that we wake up to this fact and realize the indispensable role of our waste management workers and the dignity of their labor and support them by helping reduce and segregate our waste properly. Cooperation with proper waste management helps mitigate this ongoing epidemic and additional health risks from other pollutants for all of us.

In villages in India, even today the importance of the work of waste collectors and dignity for their labour is undermined due to belief in practices such as untouchability that are unfortunately still present in India. Such difficult times of social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where households across India have effectively become untouchable to their own friends and relatives, will hopefully serve as food for thought. It should compel society to dissolve these mindsets and dismiss malpractices like untouchability.

Nalu – Dry waste segregation and storage unit

Rural Waste Management in Times of COVID-19

Given Barefoot College’s strong emphasis on workers’ safety and well-being, we review our operations from time to time. In light of COVID-19, we have modified our operations to ensure the safety of both the workers and households, during waste collection. Among the various safety measures, households are advised to cover their face while safely disposing their waste and waste collectors are advised to maintain a safe distance from households. Households have been motivated to segregate waste at the source to reduce the risk of transmission. Waste collection vehicles are now washed and sanitized daily.
This is the amount of waste that is generated in less than a month from a community of 330 households

Let’s Celebrate our Waste Collectors!

This is an opportunity to foster empathy towards the suffering of the waste collectors from the sense of isolation that they are already accustomed to feeling from society at large. They deserve our utmost respect, an honourable place in society, adequate physical protection for their safety, and monetary compensation that values their contribution to the field of preventive healthcare, disease control, and community hygiene.

Let us come together, celebrate and duly honor their work by giving our full support to their work to help bring safety, dignity and prosperity to their lives. Let each of us support them and preserve our environment by whole-heartedly participating in the effort of reducing and managing our waste safely and efficiently for a sustainable future!

Our deepest gratitude goes out to these essential workers going strong during these high-risk times


-Story shared with us by the Barefoot Waste Management Team