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Technology and Garbage Dreams in the Silicon Valley of India

The Indian city of Bangalore is home to more than 15,000 waste pickers — overall, India houses 1.5 million waste pickers. They earn their daily living by sifting through the city’s 4,000 tons of solid waste for recyclables they can sell for payment.

About 20 percent of the waste generated daily by Bangalore residents is diverted from landfills by informal waste workers. Otherwise, the remnants of the city’s rubbish-filled landscape would fester in its landfills, as there is no other existing method for recycling goods. This surfaces a larger problem. Historically, waste is not segregated at the source and the two sectors that serve waste management: The formal authority known as Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, and the waste pickers and scrap dealers struggling to minimize the gap between waste output and the city’s capacity of processing infrastructure.

Meanwhile, rag pickers have no access to fundamental rights or social benefits, and due to their hazardous working conditions, a day at the office means potential exposure to tuberculosis, chemical poisoning and other biological infections. Rag picking often turns out to be a family profession, imposed on children between five to eight years of age, permitting families to double up on breadwinners.

On the flip side, increasing participation from citizen bodies and social enterprises in collaboration with the authorities are exploring solutions for the waste-management crisis. Recently, Bangalore was the first Indian city to mandate segregation at the source across residential communities and commercial institutions, using technology to invest in infrastructure around decentralized waste management, amidst growing citizen awareness.