New Delhi: “When I was a young girl, I dreamt of going to school, making friends and achieving something in my life. But things didn’t go as planned, after my father’s death, I came to New Delhi in search of livelihood and ended up landing at the capital’s largest garbage dump. And half of my life just got wasted in dealing with garbage and garbage alone,” says 20-year-old Salma, who is originally from Kolkata and was working as a waste picker at Ghazipur Landfill. But, today Salma is no longer labelled as a waste picker, instead, she has been given a new name. She is being called an ‘Artist’ who has made a poster of the iconic Marilyn Monroe, using waste rose petals. The irony is that she does not even know about Marilyn Monroe and yet Salma managed to capture her beauty with perfection on canvas, using waste flowers. Not just that, Salma is responsible for making other eco-friendly, zero-waste products such as natural holi colours, calendars, gift boxes, diaries, file covers, rakhis to name a few, all using waste items that are available in abundance at Ghazipur.
When I remember my landfill days, the only thing I can think of is the bad smell. Today, I am so glad to be a part of something different, something that does involve garbage, but in a creative way. From dealing with cardboards to wet waste such as discarded flowers, vegetable waste and paper waste, I deal with it all. Only this time they are turned into something creative and beautiful. Something which I always wanted to do as a child, adds Salma.
Salma is not alone, thirty other women waste pickers, who had earlier no option but to spend an entire day at the landfill for their livelihood have today successfully turned artists and are making beautiful eco-friendly products. All thanks to Gulmeher Green, the NGO that is working towards providing an alternative livelihood for women waste-pickers of Ghazipur. Explaining the journey of transforming waste pickers into artisans, Anurag Kashyap, mentor at Gulmeher said,
Gulmeher foundation started back in 2013 when a waste to energy plant project was starting at Ghazipur. We knew with the plant, the livelihood of many waste pickers will be affected, on the other hand, we knew the problem of waste around us. Ghazipur has the biggest flower market around where a lot of flower waste is generated. We thought of combining two things and make a sustainable initiative out of it. That’s when we laid the foundation of the company.
The basic aim with which the NGO started working was to uplift the status of women waste pickers at Ghazipur by creating a new venue for utilising waste. Today, because of the initiative 150 women waste pickers have been turned into artists, 7,000 kilograms of paper has been recycled and more than 15 tonnes of discarded flowers have been given a new lease of life.
Explaining the working style at Gulmeher, Anurag adds,
We have a dedicated designer who has been trained from National Institute of Fashion Technology with us, she handles our daily operations and is in charge of designing products and quality checks. She has been giving these women training on how to design eco-friendly products and make use of their skills such as waste segregation and tailoring in an unique way. Mainly, we deal with vegetable market and flower waste, which usually ends up going into the mountain high Ghazipur landfill. In the evening, the women of Gulmeher make their way to this market to collect this wet waste. Then after drying the flower or vegetable waste in the sun, they arrange the waste into intricate patterns inspired by nature and wildlife on recycled paper for making calendars or turn them into beautiful wall art posters.
Now, with Holi around the corner, the women artists at Gulmeher are working towards turning flowers and vegetables waste into safe, chemical-free colours.
We are making holi colours by combining dried up flower and vegetable waste with flour and natural spices like Haldi. Once mixed, everything is crushed together so that it becomes like a powder-like material, adds Salma as she describes her work culture at Gulmeher.
She further added, Holi-colours are one thing they are working on, “The best part is we are always working on something different, when Rakhi was around, we made colourful rakhis, when diwali was there, we made decorative diyas. Along with this, we also make gift boxes, diaries.”
This work earns these women a monthly income of Rs 6,000, describing this money as her treasure, Salma adds,
Today, I have a regular income, it is because of this I have been able to save my life. I have a heart disease, because I am earning a regular amount I have been able to keep up with my medical check-ups. Moreover, I have been able to afford gold and silver items which earlier I could only dream of finding in a garbage dump as my lottery.
Apart from dealing with waste, Gulmeher has been also working towards educating people living around Ghazipur the importance of waste segregation. Anurag adds,
We have tied up with 1000 DDA colony flats here, where we are helping the municipality in door-to-door waste collection. Our motto is to teach people the importance of waste segregation and de-route waste that ends up straight at Ghazipur landfill. We are collecting the segregated waste from these households and effectively managing it. The wet waste is transferred to a municipality school where a composting unit has been installed, whereas recyclable waste is given to these waste pickers only so that they can sell it to recyclers and to earn an extra income.
Further mentioning the plans of extending the initiative to dealing with plastic waste and taking the route of upcycling, Anurag signs off by saying,
One cycle of our initiative is over which was particularly about recycling. Now, soon we will be re-routing the garbage via upcycling route and teaching these artists on creating items of daily utility from waste products. Garbage is like a gold mine, once you start digging it, you will start finding your treasure. If each one of us starts re-routing garbage like we have started doing, I am sure the problem of waste can be managed well, even in the city like ours.
In Pictures: Gulmeher women artistic work
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.