Scavengers to Managers: A 3-bin revolution for Delhi’s twin city


Paid for by Coca Cola and Tetra Pak India and implemented by the NGO Saahas, now 20.000 households and 400 offices in Gurugram separate their garbage and every day about 14,5 tonnes are recycled and composted – for this the project has now received the renowned ‘Dalmia Bharat – CSRBOX 6th Corporate Social Responsibility Impact Award’.

Vaibhav Rathi, GIZ India Climate Change

A typical day of a waste worker in India is spent by walking with a sack lengths and breadth of the city, hoping that people have thrown waste in the open or a landfill owner will give them entry to pick whatever they can from the mountain of waste. The items they pick from the mixed heap consist of soiled clothes, broken glass, single use plastics coated with rotten food waste, PET bottles, razor blades, metals. Their trained eyes know what will sell in the market for minimal prices. If they clean the waste, they fetch a better rate. However, their working conditions are horrific. A typical waste worker in India toils for 14 hours to earn 7 US-$ a day. With no protective equipment, they are exposed to cuts from glasses or diseases from rotting waste. All this for a day’s meal for their family at the cost of their dignity and health. This is the daily plight of estimated 4 to 10 million waste pickers in India.

These wastes pickers are a live paradox for India’s rapidly expanding middle-class citizens shopping in giant malls in hi-tech metros and e-commerce delivering goods at their doorsteps.

Alag Karo- A 3 bin revolution for change

How to improve lives of these waste workers who play a critical role in India’s waste management system with 90 % of waste workers barely making ends meet in the informal sector? One crucial action started change in an affluent neighbourhood of Delhi’s twin city Gurugram: Segregating waste in 3 bins.

Initiated by the GIZ India Climate Change Cluster, implemented under the (Public Private Partnership) programme of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and funded in part by Tetra Pak and Coca Cola India, the Indian NGO Saahas is implementing measures with the main message: ‘Alag Karo: Har din 3 bin’ (waste segregation! Every day in 3 tons). Further information

The city of Gurugram is a brand-new town adjacent to New Delhi, which grew exponentially in the past decade and so was its waste. Here, the core problem at the heart of all recycling efforts was the same as always: people were not segregating their waste. Thus, the first objective of the Alag Karo project was to bring about behavioural change of citizens for segregating waste in 3 bins and create systems which would ensure sustainability waste management. From the start, waste pickers were integrated in the program and trained on good practices of waste collection and handling. It was anticipated that with people segregating their waste, waste pickers will be the most benefitted.

To deliver the message, schools, colleges, commercial establishments and mass housing societies governed by Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) were identified as major waste generation centres in Gurugram. The common link to all these generators were the waste pickers which derived their income by collecting the valuables from the waste.  Hence, a campaign for mass awareness on waste management was started parallelly for generators and collectors.

Within 2.5 years of engagement with residential societies, schools and offices, with hundreds of marathons for waste, street plays, trainings and awareness campaigns, including motivating volunteers as well as designing systems for waste audits and monitoring of segregation a process for institutionalising behavioural change for source segregation of waste started to emerge.

At the same time, waste pickers were trained for better handling of waste and Identity Cards are supporting their formalisation into the waste management system. In addition, health camps for waste pickers were organised for their regular medical check-up. Further, forming a formal group of waste workers was supported for providing services to large events on waste management.

With bare beginnings the program reached out by now to more than 110.000 people and 31.000 students in Gurugram for awareness on source segregation through online and offline platforms and forums. More than 450 housekeeping staff was trained. Now, more than 20.000 households and 400 offices are practicing segregation of waste with more than 85% efficiency.

The result: Every day more than 33 tons of waste is source segregated. Resulting in 7.5 tons of wet waste being composted daily and 7 tons of dry waste sent for recycling and treatment every day.

For every 250 Kg of wet waste composted one job was created. More than 525 waste workers were trained on solid waste management. Overall resulting in better working conditions for waste workers as well as increased revenue due to improved recyclable quantity and quality of waste collected. Also, the Urban Local Body (ULB) profits with savings on collection and tipping fee

The most significant impact of the program however was visible enhancement in livelihoods of waste workers after source segregation was picked up from the generators end. One of the waste workers, Prasannajit Roy happily says, “handling of waste has become easy as there is less smell because of source segregation. Selling dry waste has also become easy as it is not mixed with wet. I want to do this job in the future”.

Change can Happen

However, it should not be denied that this program was a culmination of try and error, of successes and also failures. The recipe for institutionalising behavioural change was not formulated easily. There was a lot of resistance to change from the citizens in the beginning. A common argument for not segregating was, ‘we pay for the services then why we should take care of the waste’. However, with continuous engagement and motivation change happened. With waste workers too changing habits of waste collection and handling was tough. The most common among them was their discomfort to use Personal Protective Equipment. When they saw health benefits for better waste management practices a turnaround was realised. Receiving segregated waste was another important benefit that change the behaviours of waste pickers to adopt good practices of waste management and handling. It also motivates them to stay in the profession to earn their livelihoods.

These efforts were now awarded with the ‘Dalmia Bharat – CSRBOX 6th CSR Impact Awards’ in the WASH category in September 2019. CSRBOX is India’s leading CSR knowledge and impact-intelligence platform, connecting and informing over three million development, strategic communication, CSR, humanitarian and sustainability professionals & students.


Vaibhav Rathi, Technical Advisor-Climate Change, GIZ India