After the second week, my project was solidified. I’m working with another intern who is from just outside of Delhi (near Gaziabad) named Sadhvi. Sadhvi and I spent the week researching e-waste and creating a survey to conduct on the informal sector. In India, there is a large distinction between the informal and formal work force. The informal sector includes waste-pickers, street sweepers, etc. Thus, we’ll be interviewing scrap-pickers and e-waste traders in the informal sector to determine how the government’s new regulations on e-waste will affect them and to determine how we can help formalize their work. The government passed a new set of laws and regulations on e-waste this week that will be in effect next May 2012. The laws require all handlers of e-waste to become registered with the government. In order to become registered, the recyclers of e-waste must prove that they are handling e-waste in ways that do not harm the environment or human health and they must have the proper equipment to do so. This is extremely difficult for scrap-pickers and informal e-waste traders as they have few resources to obtain the proper equipment and comply with environmental and health standards. The survey that Sadhvi and I created mainly asks how much these traders buy and sell e-waste for, what problems they face, and if they are aware of the new laws passed by the government. We went to Shastri Park, a very poor area in Delhi and a small hub of e-waste handling. Sadhvi and I were both a bit nervous walking around this area. We received a mixture of responses. Some people were compliant enough to answer the questions on prices but when we tried to delve a bit deeper and ask about what problems they face, they were quick to reply that there are no problems. Its difficult to get people in these areas to give honest answers. Those willing to share the difficulties in the system highlighted the fact that if they were registered, they would be able to buy items at lower prices and sell them at high prices along with the registered groups, resulting in greater business opportunities and higher profits.
Many organizations, both government and non-government affiliated have conducted surveys in these areas that publicize the illegal and hazardous methods of trade, which end up hurting business rather than helping these workers legitimize the system. Sadhvi and I tried to explain the new rules to those who were unaware and asked them if they’d be interested in joining forces with Chintan to help get registered. Some seemed interested but visibly showed little faith that we’d actually follow through. Others refused and shooed us out.
It was quite the experience. We’re hoping to interview 125 e-waste traders/handlers (approximately 10% of the total number of people working in this sector in Delhi). We have a long way to go and a lot to learn.