Sukha is a waste picker in her early 30s and mother to two girls and two boys. Her husband is a daily wage earner. For many years, she earned around ₹200 a day by collecting waste from homes and garbage dumps.
Today she earns ₹18,000 a month as an employee at the Material Recovery and Segregation Facility (MRF) close to the Zakhira flyover in North Delhi. Not only does she wear a uniform, use gloves to segregate waste as part of an assembly line, but also has a few perks such as sanitary pads from a dispensing machine at the workplace.
The MRF is run by Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group that pioneered the Safai Sena (organised army of waste pickers) concept in the national capital and the 360 degrees model for waste management. The MRF has been made possible by the Anandana Coca-Cola India Foundation, which is seeing this as its first pilot project for bringing informal workers into the formal workforce. The land for the project has been given by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation.
The Zakhira MRF collects, segregates, and delivers to registered recyclers around five to seven tons of dry waste every day. The pilot is determining the ideal size for an MRF which can be replicated. Some waste is also collected from households and composted.
Tetri Devi, 25 who works at the MRF along with her husband, says getting a regular salary has been a big jump for the couple. Their three children now study in school.
“Our project is not just about waste management; it’s about creating a better future—one where dignity, livelihoods, and environmental responsibility thrive together,” says Rajesh Ayapilla, Director of CSR and Sustainability for Coca-Cola India and Southwest Asia.
However, the impact of the project will be felt only when it is scaled up to cover the entire NCR region. The Zakhira facility currently has 40-odd employees, of which around 33 are former women rag pickers. Chintan has been advocating for turning informal workers into formal workers for several years.
Says Bharati Chaturvedi, Founder and Director at Chintan, “Waste pickers are essential actors in reducing waste that reaches the landfill and protecting our cities from climate change and pollution. When we all come together and include waste pickers then the solutions are a win-win for everybody.”