How a team of Volunteers turned Waste Warriors for our environment
December 16th , 2018 | Chirag Mahajan
Troubling garbage situation motivated our thoughts
Waste Warriors Society is a solid waste management NGO that works through a combination of direct action initiatives, awareness-raising and community engagement programs, local advocacy, and long-term collaborative partnership with various government bodies.
Our organization’s spirit stems from our founder, Jodie Underhill. The troubling garbage situation in McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, motivated her to organize a mass clean-up drive in April 2009, supported by over 100 volunteers. She formed Mountain Cleaners, a voluntary organisation, and started clean-up drives and waste collection from Triund, a popular but garbage-stricken campsite at nearly 2,900m. After years of cleaning up thousands of kilos of waste off the mountain, educating shop owners and hikers, and appealing to local authorities, Triund is now among the cleanest hiking destinations in India. Jodie and Tashi co-founded Waste Warriors Society in Dehradun in 2012.
From the early days of Jodie’s volunteer-driven Mountain Cleaners, to the formation, early years, and current evolution of Waste Warriors, we’ve always been seen as a youth-driven organisation and been appreciated for being a catalyst when it comes to waste awareness and management, and environmental protection of vulnerable areas.
Working towards a clean and healthy India
We were not the only ones who noticed the rapid influx of casual and adventure tourism in areas that had rarely ever felt human footsteps before. But our NGO is now recognized for being among the few who have responded to the call to implement waste management systems in areas suffering from either a huge influx of tourists or negligence from municipal collection systems.
We are working towards a vision of a clean and healthy India, with systems in place to ensure every citizen disposes their waste correctly and feels a sense of civic responsibility and national pride regarding cleanliness. With better systems we also can more towards a healthier India with improved living standards and a better quality of life where waste workers are valued and respected for their contribution. We try to engage as many people as we can on developing sustainable solid waste management systems by being a catalyst for community-based decentralized initiatives in rural, urban, and protected areas. We want to pioneer replicable models of waste management, innovative practices in awareness and education, and to formalize and improve the informal livelihoods and stigmatized conditions of waste workers.
Working with ragpickers to uplift their lives by employing and training them
Our vision of a clean India is broad but for good reason: India’s population of 1.3 billion is in a time where sluggish waste management is struggling to catch up to exponential consumption rates from all socio-economic backgrounds. We want to encourage and drive each other and the communities we work with to implement sustainable waste management systems, drastically improve public awareness towards waste segregation and composting, and expand our waste collection services by formally employing and training ragpickers to join our projects and lift their lives out of poverty and uncertainty.
The work being done by Waste Warriors is unique because of the multifaceted nature of our strategy. Waste Warriors Dehradun is tackling urban solid waste management, and focuses on (1) bulk-generator waste collection and segregation by formalized ragpickers, (2) advocacy with local administration, (3) engaging and formalizing ragpickers, (4) ongoing awareness programs for school students, and (5) community outreach programs to raise awareness on waste segregation, proper disposal, and minimal-waste lifestyles.
Waste Warriors Dharamsala is in the challenging topography of Bhagsunag, a ward with a high floating population of Indian and foreign tourists. The project focuses on (1) door-to-door dry solid waste collection by formalized ragpickers, (2) volunteer-driven clean-up drives on trails and campsites, (3) community engagement and public awareness initiatives to minimize mixed waste, and (4) advocacy with local administration.
Waste Warriors Corbett is spread over many villages across the eastern periphery of the tiger reserve, and focuses on (1) helping villagers develop self-sustainable waste management systems, (2) generating employment and economic opportunities within the community through SHGs, (3) creating public awareness towards waste generated by the tourism industry, (4) initiatives to transform public spaces, (5) and school education programs.
Since 2012, our three projects have collected a total of 2,868 tons of solid waste from hundreds of households and businesses that participate in our door-to-door waste collection service. We estimate our work has saved over 2.05 million sq. ft. of landfill area, and 198 tons of CO2 and 79 tons of CH4. Our efforts make sure that the waste does not pollute the air through burning, or pollute clean water supplies, or even spread harmful diseases. In these 6 years, we have employed and trained over 150 staff, collecting and segregating over 733 tons of recyclables that would otherwise have been dumped in trenching grounds or in the open, thereby highlighting the importance of waste as a resource to uplift marginalised ragpickers through income from recyclable sales.
How to apply global solutions to our local problems
We’ve engaged over 8000 volunteers to participate in over 500 hundred clean-up drives in areas suffering from either a huge influx of tourists or negligence from municipal collection systems, and have saved mountainsides, waterfalls, hill and jungle trails, and even parks and city streets from hundreds of tons of littered plastic and glass. Through workshops and door-to-door community engagement, we’ve also raised levels of public awareness on segregation of waste at source and composting in over 7000 households, and conducted school education programs in which thousands of students from over 337 schools have participated. These re-sensitization efforts teach the public the importance of responsible consumption and sustainable urban living.
One of the core principles behind being a Waste Warrior is understanding how to apply global solutions to local problems. In order to keep up with the rapid pace of urban and rural change, we have to keep the public informed and engaged on the importance of responsible consumption and sustainable urban and rural systems, we have to continue to work towards all the interconnected aspects of waste management, from segregation to disposal to collection to awareness to advocacy to community partnerships. This way, our team, as global citizens, can promote solutions that are sustainable and feasible, and have meaningful impacts on the communities where are projects operate and beyond so that our local solutions are then part of a global movement and can be understood and affordably replicated not just in India but across the world.
The author of the story is Chirag Mahajan, Communication Manager of ‘Waste Warriors’ and you can reach out to them at www.wastewarriors.org
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