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Documenting the living conditions of the waste pickers at Bhalswa Dumping Ground: Photostory

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

India’s capital city, Delhi, produces almost 10,000 megatonnes of waste every single day. Everything from domestic to industrial to medical waste ends up in enormous quantities in one of the many non-engineered landfills that continue to grow taller. The largest one in Delhi is at Bhalswa, which caters to almost 50% of the city’s population.

When the shuttering planks for building one family’s home become another’s walls

Although privatization in the waste management sector has been on the rise in the last five years, the largest responsibility of closing the loop still lies with the informal sector - the true environmentalists. The ‘safai mitra’ engage with all the activities along the waste chain. From waste collection to segregation to selling it to recyclers to recycling the waste themselves. And for many waste pickers families who reside in self-constructed ‘bastis’ close to their source of livelihood, the waste from different industries and from more privileged homes becomes their brick and mortar.

Where did your old sofa end up? We spy it here

Damaged and discarded carpets from weddings and large events across the city land up near the landfill, creating the land they work and walk on

Containers of all shapes and sizes are lined outside their homes for collecting water from tankers. They use everything from paint buckets to chemical drums

Discarded hoarding banners and yards of cloth provide both refuge and identity to each home in the ‘basti’

This series of photographs highlights the living conditions of the waste pickers communities of Shraddhanand Colony in Northwest Delhi, and visually traces the origin of their building materials.

When one looks at the living conditions and quality of housing for the people responsible for making the waste economy circular in our highly consumptive cities, it is evident that

One man’s trash is another man’s home.

The take-make-dispose lifestyle that is followed by urban households and various industries along with the lack of institutional support to the waste workers communities, has led to an inequitable urban housing situation usually hidden from our sight. Our ‘safai mitra’ have an equal right to a dignified life and access to basic infrastructure. How can we play our part?

About the Author

Kanchan Joneja (LinkedIn) and Sukriti Thukral (LinkedIn), founders of the Off Centre Collective, have been studying the impact that the Bhalswa landfill has on the lives of the waste pickers communities residing at its foothills. You can follow their investigation here.

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