Monday, October 11, 2010

Waste pickers offer climate change solution

Maya Khodave normally spends her days rummaging
through rubbish dumps in a crowded Indian city but this week she is in
China to offer herself as part of the solution to tackling global

Dressed in a colourful sari, the slightly built 23-year-old has
dazzled amid a wall of dark-suited negotiators at United Nations
climate change talks while trying to raise awareness about the value
of waste pickers around the world.

"We play a very important role in the environment, yet our work is not
recognised," Khodave told reporters on the sidelines of the event in
Tianjin, her voice strong and loud but tears occasionally welling in
her eyes.

There are about 15 million people in cities across the developing
world who survive by collecting rubbish, according to the Global
Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA), a non-government organisation that
brought Khodave to China.

People such as Khodave can play an important role in combating climate
change because they cheaply and efficiently gather materials such as
paper, metal and organic waste, then sort them and send them off for

"For one tonne of paper we gather for recycling, we save 17 trees,"
Khodave said.

However, while the UN process under the Kyoto Protocol rewards
companies for burning waste and extracting gas from landfill, the
waste pickers and recycling have been ignored.

Through a UN programme called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM),
polluting companies in rich countries can claim "carbon credits" by
supporting projects in developing nations that reduce greenhouse gas

CDM has backed 186 waste-to-energy projects, primarily landfill gas
and incinerators, in countries such as India, but so far no recycling
projects have been funded, according to the GAIA.

The waste-to-energy projects are backed through the CDM because they
are seen as helping reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are
blamed for global warming.

But Khodave said the CDM projects were devastating for waste pickers'
livelihoods because it meant they often got far less access to

Private companies would often come in to cities to collect the waste
for the incinerators, while guards would protect the rubbish at
landfills, she said.

"These companies are burning waste and making briquettes from it. What
this means is we cannot make compost anymore, we are not able to send
the materials for recycling," said Khodave, who is a leader of an
Indian waste pickers union.

Making matters worse, the waste-to-energy projects were often not
nearly as green as they claimed, according to GAIA's climate change
director, Neil Tangri, who was also in Tianjin for the UN talks.

Tangri said landfills leaked significant amounts of methane, an
extremely potent greenhouse gas, while waste incinerators emitted a
third more carbon dioxide than coal-fired power plants to produce the
same amount of energy.

"The irony is that not only do they have direct emissions of their
own... they reduce the amount of recycling," Tangri said.

Promoting recycling would be a much effective way for the UN to help
deal with waste in developing countries, according to Tangri.

GAIA and a small group of other NGOs are calling on the UN to support
waste pickers by providing them with support through a planned climate
fund that is being discussed during the Tianjin talks.

The climate fund is part of a complex package of initiatives countries
are trying to establish as part of a hoped-for global pact to curb
greenhouse gases.

But the waste pickers' campaign is as much about raising awareness and
securing recognition as it is about money, according to Tangri.

"They are the poorest of the poor, governments don't like to deal with
them, society doesn't have much respect for them," he said.


Post a Comment