In this section, Kate Mytty shares that her research in India inspired her interest in teaching about waste infrastructures.
I’ve always had a broad interest in sustainability. While doing my master’s research in India, I was particularly interested in sustainability as it related to city services and income generation. One area that could benefit from more research is an understanding of how many people work informally in waste management. Current estimates suggest that 1-2% of India’s urban population is informally employed as “waste pickers.” These are people who collect valuable materials (such as electronic devices that can be stripped for their reusable components) from dumpsites and sell them up the materials chain. Other people earn their income as recyclers, going door-to-door to households and buy valuable recyclables, which they then resell.
I began to think about the relationship between this informal waste management sector and the formal sector organized by the government and private companies. I wondered how this relationship, in general, shaped how we understood the different types of employment that happened within city services and how they were delivered. I also became very interested in studying urban planning and the speciality of waste. I asked questions, such as: How close in proximity to landfills are neighborhoods established? How much space within a city does waste and its infrastructure actually take up?, and How can we become more aware of the groups of people using this infrastructure?
The specific goal of my research project, which was supported by a Tata Fellowship, was to understand the informal and formal waste sectors and waste infrastructure in one particular city in India. We interviewed people from the different waste management sectors and tried to understand the incentives that existed within the waste system. My work in that city shaped how I think about waste systems and inspired me to go on to teach courses about waste, material flows, and sustainability.