CANCUN, Mexico (AP) — Clambering over garbage heaps, rummaging through trash cans, Supriya Bhadakwad didn't set out to save the planet when she was 13 years old, just her family. But two decades later, in the global arena of climate negotiations, the sari-clad Indian woman and other scavengers are making their voices heard, tilting with big corporate players in a tug-of-war over the world's dumpsites.
The Goliaths they're taking on are companies building incinerators worldwide to burn waste from landfills, material generations of "waste pickers" have survived on. Many of the projects are supported by private funds raised under the U.N. climate treaty.
Bhadakwad had come 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to the annual U.N. climate conference in Cancun on behalf of 6,000 organized landfill recyclers in her native Pune, India, to demand access to the waste now trucked instead to a new incinerator. Without their dump, they're trying to survive by going door to door for trash in a community 12 miles (20 kilometers) away.
"We have a right to the waste that can be recycled," Bhadakwad told a reporter. "We want to continue making a living without interference from such big private companies."
Their environmentalist allies say some 15 million people worldwide depend on scavenging for a meager livelihood. And these advocates and poor recyclers have an environmental argument to make.
Incinerators not only produce toxic pollution, but "by burning waste they increase carbon dioxide emissions," the biggest global warming gas, said Mariel Vilella, a campaigner with the international group GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.