Monday, October 11, 2010

Waste Pickers Offer to Fight Climate Change

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 colorful 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 recognized,'' 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 organization 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
recycling. ''For one ton 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 program 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 rubbish.

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.


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