Stories from STEPS: Waste not, want not

The first of a new series of digital stories from the STEPS Centre looks at the working lives of India’s waste pickers, and reveals the hidden connections within the life and politics of the city.

Read the story now on Medium: Waste not, want not


The story picks up themes from our ‘Pathways to environmental health in transitional spaces’ project, which looked at ways to rethink sustainable urban waste management in India. A policy brief from the project was launched at an event in Delhi on 5 May 2015.

Making connections

As India’s urban consumers produce more and more rubbish, landfill sites are becoming overwhelmed. In response, the authorities have turned to waste-to-energy incinerators and the privatisation of waste collection.

Though waste pickers are poor, the benefits of their industry add up to a massive sum for the local economy: the informal sector was estimated to add a ‘social value’ of about 3.5 billion rupees to the Delhi economy in 2002–2003. In Delhi, one of our case study sites, 300,000 waste pickers separate recyclables from household rubbish, saving about 1,500 tonnes a day from landfill.

Despite these contributions, India’s policies for dealing with urban waste hardly acknowledge the role of waste pickers and the informal sector.

The STEPS Centre is engaging with a policy review process to encourage more recognition for the informal sector and the connections between waste, food, the environment and health.

The story includes a great series of photos by India-based scholar Pritpal Randhawa, and was compiled with help from the STEPS team in the UK and India.

Find out more

Read the story on Medium: Waste not, want not

View our project on Pathways to Environmental Health in Transitional Spaces

Read the policy brief: ‘Rethinking urban waste management in India’ (pdf)

Hot topic: Urban transformations