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Dana Kornberg

Research Findings

The Unintended Persistence of Recycling in India

January 27, 2022

Self-driving cars and manufacturing automation are widely discussed as challenges for the contemporary workforce. Less visible, however, are labor questions at the other end of the commodity chain: is household garbage collected by hand or lifted by giant compactors? Does sorting for recycling take place on conveyer belts or in the back of informal workers’ carts? How are these decisions made?

These questions became especially urgent in countries across the Global South over the last few decades, when people increasingly concentrated in cities and became reliant on the packaged goods that are predestined to become trash.

While administrators feverishly cooked up policies under the guidance of international organizations, informal recyclers continued to plie streets, knocking on doors and mining dumpsites in search of waste they sell into recycling markets. Without the support of formal policies or programs, and often in spite of them, informal workers have sustained recycling globally.

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