When Sidhant Pai visited a local rubbish dump in his home city of Pune, India, he was struck by the size and intensity of the operation. Large black crows swooping overhead, roaming pigs, overwhelming odours and groups of waste pickers collecting plastic bottles in large white sacks.
There are an estimated 15 million people globally who currently make their living from waste picking and many earn less than a dollar a day. A key problem, says environmental engineer Pai, is that workers only capture a tiny proportion of the value of the waste they collect, separate and transport to scrap dealers.
Together with his parents, Suchismita and Jayant Pai, he founded social enterprise Protoprint in 2012, one of a number of organisations trying to address the twin issues of poor conditions for waste pickers and plastic waste pollution. More than 300m tonnes of plastic are produced globally every year, with much ending up in the ocean (one refuse truck’s worth every minute), in landfill, or on city streets.