Caste, mistrust and municipal inaction

The interwoven barriers for the integration of waste pickers in India

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Solid waste management in low- and middle-income countries like India faces significant challenges due to the increasing waste generation that surpasses the current capacity. Therefore, the informal waste sector (IWS) is more vital than ever in handling consumer waste alongside municipal solid waste management (SWM) systems. However, the integration of the IWS into formal waste management systems remains unresolved due to adverse social and economic conditions. This study focuses on identifying the root causes that hinder the integration of the IWS in India's waste management system, using the city of Chennai as a case study. Adopting an institutional perspective, we analyse the institutional landscape of the waste management system, considering both formal rules (in policy documents) and informal rules (i.e., social norms and routines). The institutional network analysis reveals a significant misalignment in perceptions among governance levels concerning the integration of the IWS. The study shows a considerable gap between rules-in-form and rules-in-use, leading to 1) Preclusion of waste pickers in collecting door-to-door source-segregated waste (i.e., recyclables). 2) Unfair pricing in transactions with small aggregators. 3) Lack of ID cards for waste pickers. These barriers are ultimately rooted in caste discrimination, misalignment between governance levels, and the exclusion of waste pickers in the policymaking process. In conclusion, understanding and rectifying the institutional gaps and discriminatory practices are essential steps towards effectively integrating the IWS in India's waste management system, promoting a more inclusive and sustainable approach to waste management.