21 NOV 2011
A growing coalition of poor workers who earn a living by scouring trash heaps for recyclables in the world’s poorest cities are protesting new incinerators being built to convert that trash into electricity.While the UN has encouraged the incinerators as a means of generating electricity and preventing methane emissions — and the Kyoto Protocol provides nations carbon credits for such projects — many workers say they depend on picking recyclable materials from the waste heaps for their livelihoods. In New Delhi this month, hundreds of waste workers gathered outside UN offices to protest 21 proposed incinerator projects for which India hopes to receive carbon credits. Similar coalitions are forming in Brazil, South Africa, and Colombia. Mahesh Babush, the chief executive for a firm developing numerous trash-to-energy projects in India, told the Washington Post that the debate should be framed differently. “Do we want the ragpickers to continue working in inhuman, hell-on-earth, unhygienic conditions at these untreated dump sites?” he asked. “Should their sons and daughters do the same?” But critics say it is unrealistic to suggest those workers could find other work. In India alone, an estimated 1.7 million people earn a living by picking through garbage.