How wastepickers are affected by COVID-19

How wastepickers are affected by COVID-19

“I went to my sister’s place,” Rama says. “She told me, ‘I have two kilos of rice left. Let’s just divide it up.’” That’s what they did. Divided up the rice, cooked it with salt and made it last for 2 days. Now, when I called her up, she was brewing tea leaves for breakfast. “What to do? There’s nothing left,” she sighed. Rama picks trash on one of Delhi’s largest landfills. In her gali (slum-alley), the kids are all being fed tea for lunch and dinner. “Lal chai-what to do?” Rama’s neighbour, Shanti, tells us. What she means is boiled tea without milk and sugar. One of the problems with this, they explain over the course of our various telephonic conversations, is that the tea runs out of colour and flavour when you keep on boiling the same tea leaves again. Truth be revealed, the children of Bhalsawa landfill are drinking boiled water for meals.

These are the same children who excel in science and math-the focus of Chintan’s No Child in Trash Programme here. Two years ago, a child invented a cooler for the summer, made entirely of the trash from the landfill nearby, so his mother wouldn’t sweat so much while cooking his lunch. Today, she can’t sweat, because there’s nothing to cook. A community kitchen the chief minister promised hasn’t yet started-nobody has seen this scale of crisis, and they’re struggling to with relief.

Meanwhile, there’s curfew. The police is not letting anyone out of their homes. It’s the most desolate you’ll ever see this city of 25 million plus. Zoom is the new Chintan office, where dozens of people are collecting donations to create ration kits. A kit will have enough rice, wheat, oil and a few spices for a family of 6, if they eat modestly-enough, but nothing to spare. There’s soap too, and masks. School students, interns, retired folks, former colleagues-they’re all transferring donations. While one teams tracks this, another is getting permissions to step out to distribute the kits. Two colleagues are convincing stores to let them buy in bulk-assuring them they are no hoarders or profiteers.

Wastepickers who offer formal services can hope to work-Chintan’s got them their documents. But they won’t get to sell the recyclables they collect, leaving them without significant incomes. Those who work at landfills, or operate in dumpsters and other informal spaces, are entirely jobless. They have nothing, not even the money for food, which they buy every few days, as they sell waste. Most Indian wastepickers experience COVID19 like this. Jobless.

Bordering Delhi and Haryana, Kusumpur Pahari was ravaged beyond hunger. Located on the border of one of India’s most ancient forests earlier, this slum began asking for a basic human right to survive the pandemic: water. It had none. The government ignored its plea. “How are we supposed to survive this disease? They’re saying wash your hands. But with what?” asked Ram Agya, an anguished father of two. A twitter campaign by Chintan and Safai Sena resulted in a response by the government: There are hundreds of places to wash hands, use those. Problem was, there was nothing walking distance. “The police are beating us if we go looking for water,” said a despondent Rekha, on a video the community made. Eventually, using phones and videos, the story was shared with the Indian Express. And then, pressurized, water reached these folks.

Most wastepickers also experience COVID19 like this: marginalized. They often live in un-recognized slums (yes, the worst housing is also stratified). This means they need to fight harder to ride out this pandemic. “Here we are, serving all these people all these years, keeping their localities spotless,” says Rokhan, a wastepicker in New Delhi. “Don’t you think we are right in asking for their help now? We also have to keep our children safe.” He’s been asking people whose waste he collects, to help. Some give him food every day, others some money. Some have told him it’s also hard for them. “I know everyone won’t help us, but I know some people are decent. And some understand that if we don’t show up tomorrow, the disease may become worse for everyone,” Rokhan points out. “I’m seeing who is what kind of person-it’ll be clear now.”

Tips to Score High on the Rokhan Test:

  • Be civil to waste collectors. Tell them you know of their conditions, and you are available to help them in ways they need.
  • Give them dry rations to cook
  • Give them soap
  • Help them wash their hands when they finish their work near your home
  • Give them money-even small amounts help
  • Segregate your waste, compost the wet fraction
  • Hand over dry waste, without sharps
  • If anyone is ill or even quarantined, don’t hand over waste. It can infect. Follow municipal advisories.
  • Talk to your neighbours to do the same.
  • Ask the waste collectors what specific problems they face. Help iron it out.


Online donations:



The Chintan Team



Dear friends,

‍We hope you are safe and doing OK. We know that, like us, you may be stuck at home, worried about loved ones, or your job, or about having enough food and toilet paper. Right now, many of us are without childcare, without community, and with a lot of worry and anxiety.

The next several months and possibly even longer will be really hard for everyone around the world. But we’re in this together, and we know this time will end. We will come out the other side looking to rebuild the connections that sustain our communities and economy. In the meantime let’s stick together in the ways we can – sharing information, keeping safe, making soup, and washing our hands.

At UPSTREAM, we want to support you and add value to your lives during this time of crisis. We’ve been getting lots of questions from the UPSTREAM and Break Free From Plastic communities about reuse in a time of pandemics like COVID-19. Here are some thoughts on the common questions we’ve received:


1. Are reusables safe?

– Yes, the short answer is that soap and hot water are effective at killing coronavirus, other viruses, and bacteria. Home and commercial dishwashers are more effective than hand-washing because of the added benefit of high temperature and prolonged washing.

– State health codes ensure that commercial dishwashing will kill all pathogens, and the coronavirus is especially sensitive to soap and heat.

– As Dr. Vineet Menachery, a microbiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch recently said, “I wouldn’t expect any virus to survive a dishwasher.”‍

2. Aren’t disposables safer?

– No, they’re not when compared to properly washed reusables. Single-use disposables can harbor viruses and pathogenic bacteria. They are subject to whatever pathogens have settled on them from manufacture, transport, inventory stocking, and eventual use.

– In addition, according to a recently-released peer-reviewed scientific consensus statement, over 12,000 chemicals are used in food packaging, and many of them are hazardous to human health. Migration of these toxic chemicals out of disposables into our food and drinks is not an issue with non-plastic reusables. ‍

3. Can I use my reusable water bottle or coffee cup?

– Absolutely. Coronavirus mainly spreads through coughs and sneezes, not your reusable water bottle or cup.

– The best water refill options when you’re out and on-the-go are hands-free electronic water refilling stations like you see at the airport. If you don’t have easy access to one of these, then you can use the tap or the water cooler. Just don’t let your water bottle directly touch the spigot, and be mindful about washing your hands after touching communal surfaces.

– The same logic applies to your coffee cup. Just don’t touch your cup directly to the spigot or coffee pot, and wash your hands.

– Also, don’t forget to wash your bottle or cup with soap and water, preferably in a dishwasher.

4. Large coffee chains (like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts) recently announced they are no longer allowing customers to bring their own cups to use and refill in its stores. Do you think this will continue, and what does this mean?

– Today, businesses like Starbucks are rightly focused on how to keep us all safe. But when the coronavirus passes, plastic pollution will continue to be a huge environmental issue.

– The coronavirus crisis is showing us that we don’t have the systems we need for reusable to-go, take-out, and food delivery. Because of this, there is likely to be an explosion of single-use products as restaurants scramble to shift to food delivery to survive, and people shift to dining at home instead of eating out.

– But in parts of the world, companies have already developed reusable to-go services for take-out and food delivery. These businesses provide clean, sanitized reusable cups and to-go containers to restaurants and cafes. The dirty ones are collected, washed and sanitized in commercial dishwashers, then put back into service.

– Imagine a future with food delivery systems built on clean, sanitized reusable to-go containers and cups. How great would it be if we had reusable food delivery systems in place all over the United States like Green Tiffin and Planted Table in San Francisco, and Superfine Tiffins in New York City? Imagine how much less waste would be generated in this crisis if we had all this in place already.

– And so, we’re going to continue to focus on how to help restaurants, cafes and venues – who are going to be greatly impacted – to be empowered and ready to make these changes. Especially because doing so can help them save money.

5. Will coronavirus kill the growing zero waste lifestyle, built on bring-your-own (BYO), reuse, and bulk shopping?

– No, the zero waste lifestyle is here to stay and is gaining more traction every day. While the coronavirus will change many things in our lives for a time, it won’t change our core values like working for healthy people, a healthy planet, and a sustainable economy.

– But just like take-out and food delivery, this crisis is also showing us that we need better systems for BYO and bulk shopping. Hands-free dispensers and methods are part of the solution, as are on-site sanitizing for BYO. In addition, businesses can create new systems to provide clean, sanitized reusable containers for bulk purchasing on deposit – similar to how local dairies are bringing back the reusable milk bottle.

We hope these thoughts and tips are useful to you as you navigate these difficult times. We’re going to be working to provide helpful insights, build community, and add value to your life in the coming months.

If you’re interested, sign up to receive e-mail updates from us, connect with us on social, or stay tuned to the Indisposable Podcast. If you’ve got kids at home, check out our just-launched YouTube channel where they can learn about solutions to plastic pollution – including an episode on how kids got single-use plastic out of their school. We’d also love to hear from you! Drop us an email at or send us a direct message on Instagram or Facebook.

Most importantly, take care of yourself, stay safe and hold your loved ones close.


All our Best,

Matt, Julie, Lauren, Berna, Inder, Eva, Brooking, Erin,
Miriam, Vanessa, Samantha and the rest of the UPSTREAM Team




In an aim to re-amplify the call to assess, reduce, and eliminate the use of harmful single-use plastics in healthcare, hospitals and medical institutions in the Philippines together with the bigger break free from plastic movement, pledge to uphold and promote sustainable waste management in order to protect the health of the planet and the people.

“As the only sector with healing as a mission, our hospitals and health organizations have an important leadership role to play in the bigger movement against plastics, because plastic pollution is also a public health issue,” Ramon San Pascual said; Executive Director of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Southeast Asia. He added that, “today, the hospitals where we conducted the first hospital waste and brand audits back in 2018, are already experiencing the impacts of the plastic reduction strategies we have recommended.”

For instance, during the Public Launch of the Break Free From Plastic Healthcare Network in Quezon City, pilot hospitals have shared their initial achievements like Alabang Medical Center where they have experienced reduction in infectious waste volume, and in single-use plastic bottles through installation of water fountains in hospital floors. St. Paul Hospital Cavite shared that they have stopped purchasing non-essential plastics by installing water stations in each hospital floor and providing brewed coffee instead of sachets. On the other hand, the St. Paul’s Hospital in Iloilo has engaged with their supplier in terms of the disposal of purchased goods, and lastly, Mary Johnston Hospital in Tondo, are talking to possible suppliers of glass IV bottles to replace the plastic ones.

San Pascual finally expressed that, “through this project launch and network building, more hospitals are being called to help in the banning of single-use plastics in the health facility and in the communities, to continue in pushing for the right policies and fighting against false solutions like waste-to-energy, and especially in setting an example for other institutions, work places, and even campuses.” ###

Waste Management Agrees to Identify Gaps in Recycling Infrastructure as Step Toward Increasing Plastics Recycling

Waste Management Agrees to Identify Gaps in Recycling Infrastructure as Step Toward Increasing Plastics Recycling

Media contact: Stefanie Spear,, 216-387-1609

BERKELEY, CA—FEB. 25, 2020 — Following in-depth engagement by As You Sow and Trillium Asset Management, Waste Management, Inc. (WM) has committed to publishing a report that could help ease the recycling crisis that has developed in parts of the United States. The report will identify gaps in recycling infrastructure, and discuss how many of its processing facilities have been upgraded, which can boost material yield.

China’s 2018 ban on plastic waste imports exposed the fragility of parts of the U.S. recycling collection and processing system. In some areas, there is no market for collected recyclable plastics due to historical reliance on China for processing. To help address this situation, Trillium and As You Sow filed a shareholder proposal with WM for 2020, asking it to report on how it can increase the scale and pace of efforts to boost recycling rates, especially in relation to plastic pollution.

The company will provide a report to help identify basic gaps in plastic recycling infrastructure in the U.S. In addition, WM will provide overlay maps and data highlighting its marketing of three commonly recycled types of plastic — PET, HDPE, and polypropylene.  This data will show material flows between regions by polymer, and categories of current end market uses for these materials. WM will identify actions it believes will help address the gaps identified in the report — both possible company actions and broader recommendations.

One of the factors in low recycling rates are inefficient or outdated Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF), where collected recyclables are separated for processing. Outdated facilities can result in lower capture rates of recyclables. The company has agreed to disclose information on the number of its MRFs that are equipped with the latest processing equipment, as well as those that are slated for near-term upgrades that can improve recycling outputs and yields, and those that have not been upgraded.

The company will also provide an updated statement on its position on extended producer responsibility (EPR), a strategy that requires consumer goods producers to finance collection and recycling of their packaging, currently paid for by taxpayers. Trillium and As You Sow believe EPR policies are essential to provide adequate funding to collectors and processors to be able to take a range of actions needed to improve recycling rates.

As You Sow and Trillium have withdrawn their shareholder proposal in response to these commitments by the company.

“Less than 10 percent of plastic waste is recycled and the lack of export markets has put heavy strains on the domestic recycling market,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow. “This report will provide deeper insight into plastic material flows once they leave consumers hands and should be an invaluable resource to stakeholders working to increase recycling rates.”

As You Sow believes more organized, concerted action is needed by producer brands, recyclers, processors, regulators, and advocacy groups to dramatically increase levels of recycling, both to capture the embedded value of these materials, as well as to provide feedstock for the recycled content many brands now promise to use. Without such action, more recyclable plastics will end up in landfills instead of being recycled.

“We are pleased to have been a driving force behind this new action from WM and we hope this report will provide a meaningful addition to the industry’s understanding of plastic recycling challenges in the U.S.,” said Allan Pearce, a shareholder advocate at Trillium.

To learn more about As You Sow’s work on ocean plastics, click here.

Originally posted in As you Sow.

Ground-Breaking Federal Legislation Tackles the Root of the Plastic Pollution Crisis

Ground-Breaking Federal Legislation Tackles the Root of the Plastic Pollution Crisis

For Immediate Release: February 11, 2020


Shilpi Chhotray, Break Free From Plastic, +1 703 400 9986 or
Ned Adriance, Senator Udall’s Office,
Keith Higginbotham, Congressman Lowenthal’s Office,

Washington DC —  Today, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act – the first comprehensive bill in Congress to address the plastic pollution crisis. Drawing on stakeholder input from over 200 individuals, environmental groups, businesses, trade associations, aquariums, academics, grassroots organizations, and state and local governments, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act reduces unnecessary plastic and reforms our broken waste management system.

Globally, the plastics industry produces over 335 million tons of plastic each year – and this volume is continuing to increase.  By 2050, global plastic production is projected to triple and will account for 20 percent of all oil consumption.  But nearly two-thirds of plastic produced becomes waste.  The materials in Americans’ blue bins are often landfilled, incinerated, or shipped overseas to countries that are unable to manage the burden of additional trash. What were once pristine agricultural communities in southeast Asia are now toxic dumpsites due to imported waste from wealthier nations like the United States.  Plastic waste finds its way into our water, soil, and air where it breaks down into microplastics that contaminate food and drinking water, consequently posing a risk to human health.

Break Free From Plastic members are supportive of the bill (learn what they are saying) as it addresses the root cause of the plastic pollution crisis.  Communities who live on the fenceline of the neighboring petrochemical facilities, in particular, face the brunt of toxic air emissions resulting in negative health impacts. In the United States, state and local governments are implementing policies to reduce unnecessary plastic products and shift the huge financial responsibility to producers for managing our waste. The Break Free From Plastic movement is calling for federal leadership to build on this momentum.



Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,800 organizations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.


Immediate and massive rejection to Coca Cola advertisements

Immediate and massive rejection to Coca Cola advertisements

Coca-Cola recently released several TV ads, which were strongly criticized in social media. Two of them, in particular, refer to environmental problems: global warming and forest fires in one of them and the problem of waste, in the other. Just a few days before, the company declared in Davos that it won’t stop using single-use plastic bottles, excusing themselves on consumers’ demand. Coca-Cola is the worst plastic polluter at a global level. It is one of the main corporations that scaled up the consumption of single-use plastic bottles and systematically lobbied against any kind of regulation. Coca-Cola must stop greenwashing, take responsibility for the problem it created and abandon single-use packaging.

In one of the ads, there is a TV broadcasting the news about forest fires and the headline “Global Warming” together with young people that, while drinking Coca-Cola in plastic bottles, say “In the world, there are many things to do” and “ It’s time to be awake”. In the other spot, there are young people that, after drinking Coca-Cola, collect waste on a beach, with the statement reading
“A world without waste”. These ads caused an immediate and massive reaction in social media, particularly on Instagram. On one of them, users wrote over 600 comments rejecting it, and more than 100 on the other. Instagram was filled up with comments like these:

A fake message coming from the company that leads the ranking of plastics found in rivers and seas since there are waste audits in riverbeds and

Seriously? Global Warming with plastic bottles in hands? You’re a joke. If you will commit, do it with true actions, not lying ads. Shame!

Wouldn’t it be better if you took responsibility for the disaster you are causing?

It’s better to stop producing single-use plastics. This advertisement is a lack of respect.

You should start avoiding single-use bottles, instead of promoting them, if you really care. More actions, less greenwashing please!

In October 2019, the global movement Break Free From Plastic submitted a report identifying the main corporations polluting ecosystems with plastics. To do that there were 484 cleanups with brand audits in the shores of 51 countries. For second year in a row it was found that Coca-Cola is the most polluting corporation.

In the city of Rosario (Argentina), Taller Ecologista, as part of Más Río Menos Basura (More River Less Waste) a group of organizations and institutions, participated in BFFP Brand Audit collecting waste in the Paraná river shoreline. In this action, just like in others organized by the local group, they always found that Coca-Cola was responsible for the majority of waste polluting the river. For that reason, in November 2019 the local organizations took the bottles collected in the river to the company’s distribution facility in the city of Rosario. They demanded “Stop Using Disposables” and claimed the company to go back to returnable bottles.

Coca-Cola has to change and lead the path to other companies. In the past it led the path to an unsustainable system, scaling up the use of disposable bottles and then creating the problem of which today we are seeing the consequences: millions of tons of plastics in the oceans, in the rivers; microplastics in animals and our bodies and so on. It is unacceptable that Coca-Cola maintains, as it did in Davos, that it will continue using single-use bottles because consumers are demanding them. Everybody knows the big corporations have always been creating the demand for the products they want to sell. We say: Coca-Cola, don’t wash your hands, take responsibility and stop using disposables.



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#EstemosDespiertos para despertar al mundo 🙌

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Estemos despiertos para que nos importe lo que tiene que importarnos. 🌊🏄🏻‍♀️☀️♻️

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More information:
Mirko Moskat (Taller Ecologista): 341 5795088


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