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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Jodie Underhill – A British citizen now known as the Garbage girl of India

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A Decade-old Clean-up Movement Snowballs into Systematic Solutions For Waste Management in The Indian Himalayan Region through ‘Waste Warriors’.

Jodie Underhill

Jodie Underhill – A British citizen now known as the Garbage girl of India

India generates 62 million tons of waste each year. About 43 million tons (70%) are collected, of which about 12 million tons are treated, and 31 million tons are dumped in landfill sites. This is a huge cause of concern and reason for landslides and natural disasters.

Tourism is a huge revenue generator but it also brings problems, especially in sensitive zones. Reports from NITI Aayog and the World Bank estimate that the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) now generates nearly eight million metric tons of waste annually. Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have witnessed more than 400 million tourists since 2010 and are among the worst-performing states when it comes to solid waste management. Due to lack of waste management systems, 60% of this waste is dumped on hill slopes, forests and water bodies, further polluting them. It has an adverse effect on the more than 30,000 species of local flora and fauna, some of which are rare and on the verge of extinction.

Burning these micro plastics waste in the open, leads to pollution and release of toxic chemicals, which is harmful to human health. It is one of the causes of melting of glaciers and climate change. Unfortunately, the marginalized communities who live near landfills are the most vulnerable to the impacts of waste. Micro plastics are found in human blood and foetuses also now.  

We as citizens need to take responsibility. One sensitive and conscious person did react – Jodie Underhill.  

#SalamatRaho stories


Garbage dumped and burnt in Uttarkashi

Jodie Underhill, a foreigner, started an active movement to clean up the hills and formed a Ngo called – Waste Warriors. Jodie Underhill is the co-founder of Waste Warriors, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) headquartered in Dehradun, India, that specializes in waste collection and waste management. Jodie also known as – ‘Garbage Girl’ and ‘Waste Warrior’.- A British tourist, who has committed her life to cleaning up the Himalayas and preserve our natural heritage.

Jodie was born in Norfolk, England. During her teens, she wanted to be a jockey. Horses were her passion. She traveled and volunteered for many projects. Her initial working experience as Legal Editor, Fundraising Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator, helped her initiate project in various places. 

As a young British traveler, Jodie Underhill, visited India in 2008 and was mesmerized by the country’s beauty. However, she was heartbroken when she witnessed how severe India’s garbage problem was. She started a voluntary organization named ‘Mountain Cleaners’ and organized a weekly clean-up from Triund, a remote but garbage-stricken mountain camp, a four-hour hike from McLeod Ganj.

Jodie with young Warriors at a community cleanup event in Corbett 

Life is not a bed of roses, but those who hang on, succeed.

People wondered what they were doing. Working without funding was a challenge. Taking support from local government dept was the only way out but extremely difficult for a foreigner. They assumed she will not stay, so why support. 

In spite of her tough journey, Jodie says,” I was really taken care of whilst I was in India. There is a famous saying in India that “Guest is God” and that’s really the way I was treated, with absolute kindness.  People could see that my intentions were good, they knew I was doing everything in a voluntary capacity and they respected me for that. Slowly, people started joining the clean-up drives and eventually it became a movement.” 

In due course, projects started coming in and more people joined and progress was positive.  They won around Rs.1.5 lakh as runners up in the Mahindra Spark the Rise competition and soon were given 5 lakhs by Bollywood superstar Chiranjeevi in recognition of their work during the Uttarakhand flood disaster. 

Jodie Underhill during a clean up 

When your cause is focussed and pure, the universe automatically sends in the support. 

In 2012, Jodie registered a non-profit, Waste Warriors, in Dehradun, with a dream to clean up the entire country. Projects started in Dharamshala, Dehradun, and the outskirts of the Corbett Tiger Reserve. 

Jodie says,”The stigma attached to working with waste has to change and I feel that Waste Warriors has taken great strides towards that. If waste is segregated at source and processed as per the guidelines, it’s not a dirty job at all.’ Waste Warriors evolved from a group of enthusiastic volunteers to now a team of professionals from diverse backgrounds that empower communities to take responsibility for their waste and build capacity of local governments to prioritize and streamline waste management services.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful & committed Warriors can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

WW field teams monitor source segregation of households in Dharamshala 

As they moved forward, the fundamentals took shape. Today, Waste Warriors provides an inclusive, participatory, and sustainable solution for waste management in the eco-sensitive Indian Himalayan Region. 

Their Objectives are –

  • Enabling better governance in rural & urban areas, especially tourist areas.
  • Addressing policy gaps specific to the eco-sensitive Indian Himalayan Region.
  • Activating communities to take local environmental action and co-creating solutions.
  • Igniting agency in women and youth to earn their identity through dignified livelihoods.

Last year in November, Waste Warriors completed 10 years and have accomplished a great deal in their mission to tackle waste-related issues and provide systematic solutions over the decade. Through their hard work and commitment, they have demonstrated that a small team of dedicated individuals can make a significant impact.

Now, Under the leadership of Vishal Kumar, the CEO of Waste Warriors, the team has expanded their operations to eight different locations, each with its unique waste-related challenges. In each of these locations, the Waste Warriors have implemented high-impact CSR projects that have had a tangible and positive impact on the local communities.

As they enter their second decade of operation, the Waste Warriors are committed to continuing their work towards a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable future. Their success over the past ten years serves as a testament to the power of dedication and passion in achieving important social and environmental goals.

The Waste Warriors Team is all in celebration at the 10 year Celebrations event

Jodies’ and Waste Warriors work has highly been appreciated and they have  received lots of recognition for her initiatives including the  

 -Amazing Indians award presented by Anand Mahindra, 

-Times of India Brand Icon,

 -Service before Self

-Grassroots Woman of the Decade. 

Waste Warriors was also awarded the 

-Today’s Safaigiri Award in 2018 

-SDG Goal Keeper Award for SDG 12 

– Excellence in Waste Management by the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand in 2022. 

Jodie shares, ”However, I feel that the biggest achievement is the fact that Waste Warriors has gone from strength to strength and that we are known as an honest and hard-working organisation. “

Waste Warriors have engaged with over 200,000 people through various community awareness activities, diverted over 6000 MT of waste away from the environment, empowered over 1000+ waste workers, and helped set up 3 material recovery facilities in the Himalayan region. 

The Material Recovery Facility in Dehradun 

They have initiated various Volunteering and internships programs, to provide an opportunity to environmentally-passionate students and professionals across the globe to learn about their work and engage in solid waste management projects of great significance.

Perseverance paid off finally. It took years of hardwork and convincing the residents of Dehradun wards to have cleaner neighbourhoods, they are great results. Over 1500 homes are now segregating their waste at source, and giving their dry waste separately to the waste collection vehicle. Waste warriors have been giving active solutions to various initiatives and providing on ground support to help bring in change. We hope more and more volunteers, corporates and government initiatives support such projects.

The Himachal Team pose with young Warriors as part of the school Green Campus Program 

They also took up empowerment of women to lead the battle against waste in remote villages of Uttarkashi and Corbett. Saving their environment and breaking stigma and stereotypes, one village at a time, was the format they worked on. The EDCs and Uttarakhand Forest dept. is supporting their waste management efforts in two villages for the next three years. Under this program, our SHG women will be able to continue to engage village residents’ door-to-door to raise awareness on source segregation and cleanliness. People are also being provided with reusable bags to separately collect dry waste like plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, and metal. This waste will be collected by the SHG women to be segregated at WW waste centres and then sent for recycling or co-processing. 

Project Paryavaran Sakhis in corbett took off successfully. As part of the Responsible Travel Initiative by Royal Enfield, Waste Warriors decided to meet with Self Help Groups through National Rural Livelihoods Mission and together identify solutions towards unmanaged waste. Through these meetings, 23 active women stepped forward and expressed their interest in supporting the initiative.

After several waste management training sessions with the team, today these women, fondly referred to as Paryavaran Sakhis can be seen proactively involved in dry waste collection, managing the waste banks, and channeling the collected waste to recycling value chains. Not only have these Sakhis broken the socio-economic taboo of dealing with waste, they have been empowered with livelihoods and income generation through collection of user fees and sale of recyclables. To mitigate risk in their venture, the initiative is providing gap funding to ensure sustainability of their ventures.

A Parayavaran Sakhi From Corbett rides the waste collection e-rikshaw

Jodie’s message to the future generations – 

“When like minded sincere sensitive citizens collectively think of solving their nations problems, they can do it. Change is possible if you genuinely believe you can be the catalyst. And this is what Jodie Underhill proved. No borders or boundaries can stop you, if your passion to conserve and preserve is strong.”  

Jodie Underhill and Vishal Kumar at the Waste Warrior 10 year celebrations 

As they enter their second decade of operation, the Waste Warriors are committed to continuing their work towards a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable future. Their success over the past ten years serves as a testament to the power of dedication and passion in achieving important social and environmental goals.

We really hope more and more environmentally sensitive people come out of their comfort zones and joined such organisations, as a short term or long term volunteer or as a sponsor etc so that our future generations have something left to see of the himalayan mountains, floura and fauna. Kudos to Jodie and Waste warriors for taking steps towards conservation and preservation of our natural heritage. 

What is Salamat Raho ?

Team NomadLawyer’s ambition is to positively impact the world through the stories of HumanKind. We believe in the art of storytelling. Through “Salamat Raho ”, we are creating a database for social good in the form of “Impact Stories”, which will help us achieve our goal and reach out to the world at large.

Visit the Nomad Lawyer portal at nomadlawyer.org and you can also get in touch with us at [email protected]

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