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05 Jul 2023

Informal plastic waste recycling firms: Impacts on livelihood and health

A sizeable segment of the workforce in India relies on the informal sector as their main source of income. One such activity is waste management, which is carried out informally or is organised through associations and cooperatives. The informal garbage sector dominates waste collection and material recycling operations with four millioA recent paper by Md Sayed Hasan and Somnath Ghosal investigates the role of informal plastic waste recycling factories on workers' livelihoods in West Bengal, a prominent waste recycling centre. The paper ‘Informal plastic waste recycling firms in rural eastern India: Implications for livelihood and health’ assesses the prevalence of self-reported health disorders with multiple responses and their predictors for recycling plastic factory workers.

Since the 1990s, the number of informal plastic waste recycling firms has increased significantly in West Bengal's Malda district, particularly in the Kaliachak-I area. These businesses support the development of the rural workforce, economic growth, and the narrowing of the rural-urban economic gap. As a result, residents of this region frequently switch from farming to non-farming activities, which significantly improves their ability to support their living. Those undertaking these activities are known as recycling factory workers.

In more than 200 small and medium-sized recycling companies, the routinely collected materials are processed via various stages including color sorting, cleaning, pre-processing, volume accumulation, and trade. These factories also feature an informal work environment, which has more serious effects on the health of the employees. 

The findings portray both the positive and negative implications of these factories. Nearly 78% of factory workers are faced with muscular pain. Further, statistical analysis indicate a significant positive relationship between the magnitude of workers' health disorders with increasing years of work experience and demographic attributes (p < 0.05 and p < 0.10).

Based on the interviews, it is clear that this sector is limited to a specific segment of society. It gave the poor, less educated, semi-skilled population a unique opportunity to work and earn. The current study attempted to quantify the livelihood outcomes of recycling factory workers n people working in informal recycling in India.

As much as these activities bring economic benefits to those involved, there is also a prevalence of human health risks associated with these activities. These health risks are often attributed to the nature of recyclable items collected and the process involved. It is also mentioned that poor health status is associated with a low-standard workplace, insufficient ventilation in the work shed, and improper hygiene for the workers. Hence, recycling factory workers are exposed to several major and minor health disorders, similar to those in other developing countries, as most work long hours with minimal protection.


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