Information Asymmetry in the Informal Waste Ecosystem


SELLING IN THE DARK


kabadiwalla connect

MUSINGS ON WASTE (Part 7)

As a general rule the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.
– Benjamin Disraeli

LEARNING FROM THE EXPERIENCES OF THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR

What do Indian farmers and rag-pickers have in common? At face level, both groups couldn’t be more different: one’s livelihood is based on producing crops, while the other earns a living by salvaging waste. But interestingly, both operate within sectors that are structured in a very inequitable fashion.

Consider these statistics: according to a report published by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) in 2013, the average monthly income of an agricultural household is INR 6426. Dr Rahul Singh, from the Birla Institute of Management Technology, estimates that Indian rag-pickers earn anything between Rs. 45 to 80 in a day – an average of Rs. 1875 each month. In both sectors, however, the final product accrues much more value at the higher end of the supply chain, and is traded for much higher prices than what farmers and rag-pickers receive.

There are many reasons attributed to the unequal distribution of profits, especially at the lower end of the supply chain; one important factor is the unequal access to crucial information relating to the market.

In technical terms, this is referred to as ‘information asymmetry’ – a market economy which has ‘imperfect information’ between all the players. Information asymmetry can be defined as a situation where some party in a transaction benefits from having preferential access to information, leading to power imbalances in transactions.

Information asymmetry can exist across different industries and verticals. In India, it is particularly prevalent in the agriculture sector. A recent report describes the disconnect that exists between the industry’s multiple activities – including planning production, growing, harvesting, packing and transport, among others – which can lead to increased transaction costs, market friction and a situation in which particular stakeholders wield more power than others.

SELLING IN THE DARK | COMMONALITIES BETWEEN THE WASTE AND AGRICULTURAL MARKETS

In the agricultural sector, this asymmetry manifests itself in a variety of ways. In terms of structure, the industry comprises of farmers who produce crops, traders and middlemen who aggregate, wholesalers who bid for the produce aggregated by the traders, and eventually, consumers. Buying and selling of produce takes place at specified neighborhood markets, or ‘mandis’ and these are largely dominated by traders.

In general, farmers at the bottom of the supply chain are completely dependent on these traders to push their wares to consumers. They are particularly disadvantaged because of fewer opportunities of what is called ‘spatial arbitrage’; since they are not mobile, they cannot collect cumulative information on current prices and patterns of demand across different markets. This is an expensive operation that is far beyond their capability and as a result, they are unable to make decisions that would maximise their profits

This situation is clearly illustrated in the survey conducted by the NSSO. According to this data, farming households are relatively unaware of government procurement options for crops and crop insurance schemes. They are also far removed from new technologies and guidance from state-run research institutes.

On the other hand, large traders have the capacity to collect this information from different markets, which gives them better bargaining power over the farmers. It also gives them an understanding of how to hike the prices of produce, significantly increasing their mark-up. Besides this, large traders have the advantage of temporal arbitrage; that is, those who have the capital to store large quantities of produce for longer periods of time can also affect market prices in specific localities by doing so. The end result is fairly straightforward: while consumers pay competitive prices for produce, farmers receive only a fraction of the income.

Interestingly, Kabadiwalla Connect’s primary research has shown similar cases of information asymmetry in the waste space. Much like the structuring of the agricultural sector, the informal waste space includes a variety of buyers and sellers along a complicated chain. At the bottom-most level are mobile rag-pickers, who source waste manually from street dumps, landfills and homes. Waste is then passed on to itinerant buyers (who have the added benefit of a vehicle) and stationary scrap-dealers of varying capacities and scales. Finally, waste is routed to recyclers who upcycle it to a product of a much higher value.

THE INFORMAL WASTE ECOSYSTEM | LACK OF INFORMATION HITS THE BOTTOM OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN HARDER

Predictably, it’s the rag-pickers and itinerant buyers who are most disadvantaged because of the lack of information. While they source and salvage waste, they do not have the knowledge or ability to add value to it in any way. On the other hand, scrap-dealers (especially those at the higher end of the chain), are much better equipped to do so. They purchase waste at extraordinarily low prices from rag-pickers and then align their management process to better meet industry demands. As you travel up the waste chain, they sort waste into increasingly specialized categories and aggregate it to the extent that will make them maximum profit. They also know to transport waste to geographies where demand is highest.

The knowledge of these dynamics is what allows scrap-dealers and wholesalers to push up their revenue while simultaneously paying their suppliers a bare minimum. What results is that players at the base level of the supply chain are highly underpaid – in countries like Nicaragua for example, waste-pickers earn between $1.50 to $2 per day, while in Mexico, the average is around $7 a day. In his paper ‘Waste Picker Cooperatives in Developing Countries’, Martin Medina writes about how waste-pickers in Colombian, Indian and Mexican cities receive only 5 percent of what the recycling industry eventually pays for waste they supply.

LEARNING FROM OUR PRIMARY RESEARCH

One of the scrap-dealers whom we interviewed is based in MMDA Colony. Most of his competitors work out of rented or makeshift locations and purchase several categories of waste in small quantities. However, he has utilized his financial capability and knowledge to build a more successful enterprise. He invested in a 2400 square foot yard to aggregate material, and chose to specialize in only one category: paper. Rather than source his material from several stakeholders, he worked out contracts with a few printing presses in the city. These presses not only produce vast amounts of waste paper, ensuring a steady supply, but also shred it before handing it over to him, cutting down on the processing procedures he has to implement in his yard. Once the paper is brought to his yard, his staff sort it into super-specialized categories and bale it to save space. The scrap paper is aggregated until it can be sold for the highest price. His monthly revenue is over INR 1,00,000 – several times what an average kabadiwalla would make.

On the other hand, another scrap-dealer whom we spoke to in Kotturpuram had a very different model. He deals with 13 categories of waste, running the gamut from plastic and paper to metals like copper and aluminium. His suppliers are varied and operate in an ad hoc manner, and he has no understanding of the volume game, neglecting to aggregate his waste before selling it. He makes less than INR 10,000 every month.

TECHNOLOGY INTERVENTIONS | OPPORTUNITIES AND CAVEATS

There have been various attempts at tackling the information asymmetry in the agricultural sector. An interesting model sought to make market information available on a mobile platform, since cellphones are easily accessible in rural parts of the country. However, there are a few factors that limit the efficiency of these systems. For instance, many farmers are unable to bear the cost of using an online or mobile platform, which means that the service has to be free in order to have a wide reach; but on the flipside, services that are not economically self-sustaining also tend to lose support in the long run. Moreover, these systems are not always created and implemented with a good enough understanding of the needs of the farmers.

There doesn’t seem to have been any highly successful technological interventions tackling information asymmetry in the waste space. However, governments that have lent support to informal waste networks by regularising their functioning have, to an extent, managed to facilitate the free flow of information. In Brazil, for instance, the informal waste sector has been provided with institutional support and organised into unions and cooperatives, making it easier for rag-pickers and scrap-dealers to access information collectively. In India, while there are instances of self-organisation within the informal waste sector, we still have a long way to go until there is no exploitation within the ecosystem.


– Written by Siddharth Hande and Kavya Balaraman: Kabadiwalla Connect is a Chennai-based project that aims at reducing waste sent to urban landfills by leveraging the potential of the informal sector. Our partners include Gubbi Labs and the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability, IIT-Madras. Read the post on their blog.


Sources

‘Waste Picker Cooperatives in Developing Countries’ – Martin Medina
‘Role of AMIS in Resolving Information Asymmetries in Agricultural Markets: Guidelines for AMIS Design’ – Laxmi Gunupudi and Rahul De, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore
‘Socio-Economic Issues in Waste Management By Informal Sector in India’ – Dr Rahul Singh, Birla Institute of Management Technology


The Many Lives of Paper


LEARNING FROM AN EXPERT


kabadiwalla

MUSINGS ON WASTE (Part 6)

This is a post by one of Kabadiwalla Connect’s research interns, Rajesh, who works at the Indian Institute of Public Policy. Rajesh has been involved in collecting data from the field.

Chennai has a thriving informal market for scrap paper; most neighbourhoods have local kabadiwallas who buy paper from homes and other generators at the market price. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though, since this paper is a crucial part of a much larger recycling network. It’s rather ironic to note that both the paper currency in our wallets and the scrap paper we sell to kabadiwallas carry value.

As part of the initial pilot surveys with the Kabadiwalla Connect team, I happened to come across a large go-down near MMDA Colony. It was around 2400 square feet and used almost exclusively for storing and sorting scrap paper. The piles of paper there were neatly baled and packed into special gunny bags, before being transported to locations around the city where paper waste is processed. The paper go-down interested me, and so I spent some time there finding out more about its functioning.

Paper finds use in several forms based on its quality. Our newspapers are mostly 35-50 GSM, while the inner pages of mid-market magazines pages (like those of Kumudham, Kunkumam, Viketan etc.) are generally 90 GSM. Posters and paper sourced from stationary stores are between 130 GSM and 170 GSM. At the other end of the spectrum, 180 to 250 GSM paper is used for printing high quality magazine covers (like those of National Geographic, Discovery TLC, and Gadget Magazines). Finally, business cards are made of paper of 350 GSM and above.

The owner of the go-down spent time explaining to us how the kinds of waste paper find their way to his establishment. A typical day starts at about 10.30 am, when accounts from the previous day are settled and business hours begin. The owner has established connections with different printing presses in the city, and they call him to pick up waste paper that has been accumulated from the previous working day. They are picked up by daily wage freelance waste-pickers, who use either tricycles (the Vyaparis) or Tata Aces (aka the ‘Chinna Yaanai’, or ‘Small Elephant’). The waste paper is then dumped in the sorting yard where four employees begin sorting it into categories based on quality. The concept of GSM really doesn’t ring a bell with them and so they have their own names for the various types of paper.

Newspapers are divided into English and vernacular publications for the simple reason that each category fetches a different price per kilogram. Bound books are sorted into notebooks, textbooks and magazines. Sheets of paper are divided into print paper (mostly low GSM ad posters that accompany newspapers), white paper (un-used A4 size sheets), black (black and white printed A4 size sheets), colour (coloured low GSM paper) and more. The high quality GSM paper arrives a little later.

Once sorted, the paper is shredded to increasing packing and baling efficiency. Baling not only reduces the space taken up by the material, but also helps in the recycling process, during which time the paper is treated with chemicals, separated into fibres and reconstituted once again into paper.

“We normally get our supply of waste paper from printing presses. In recent times, they have begun to attract a lot of customers who wish to print books, brochures, magazines, certificates, banners etc. For every square metre of paper printed on, atleast 5-10 percent results in wastage,” claimed the owner, adding, “Business is a little low now since not too many people, especially the educated ones, want to recycle.”

He has a point – with the advent of IT companies and the rise in education standards, many have now lost the need to send in their waste paper for recycling. Municipal dump yards have been growing at higher rates with the increase in the number of residential complexes. The only way forward now would be to encourage the public and the kabadiwallas to co-operate and help each other sustain a clean and green environment that would truly embody the spirit of the Swachh Bharat campaign.

So what exactly does recycling paper mean in terms of benefits to the economy, environment and us? Recycling 1 ton of paper saves close to 20 trees, 26 cubic metres of water, 2.3 cubic metres of landfill space, 320 litres of oil and 4100 kWh of electricity, which is almost enough to power an average Indian home for close to 1.5 years! So, the next time you come across waste paper, pick it up and give it to your neighbourhood kabadiwalla.


– Written by Rajesh Ramesh. Kabadiwalla Connect is a Chennai-based project that aims at reducing waste sent to urban landfills by leveraging the potential of the informal sector. Our partners include Gubbi Labs and the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability, IIT-Madras. Read the post on their blog.


REST OF THE SERIES

Waste Networks


UNDERSTANDING THE BIGGER PICTURE


kabadiwalla

MUSINGS ON WASTE (Part 5)

This post was written by Michael Lytton, who is collaborating with Kabadiwalla Connect on research and outreach. Michael is an urban planner with 30 years of experience in the public sector.

I was recently reading a bi-weekly news roundup on waste pickers, and it occurred to me that the publication is a great way to help readers see the bigger picture. The free newsletter that I was reading is published by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). The group — it is a global network, and not focussed exclusively on women — is dedicated to the working poor in the informal economy.

The newsletter offers information and insights, examples of government initiatives and policies, and inspiring stories. It is an important instrument in support of WIEGO’s mandate to “build alliances and draw on the expertise of individuals and institutions from constituencies around the globe”.

The news roundup for March 2-15 included the following items:

  • In Brazil, the Ministry of Social Development will choose four associations or waste pickers cooperatives for selective collection of waste produced by the Ministry for six months.
  • In Chile, one thousand women recyclers will be trained in management and entrepreneurship programs.
  • The federal government of Egypt inaugurated a program to pay waste pickers in the city of Cairo.
  • Also in Brazil, the National Bank for Economic and Social Development provided Sao Paulo with $41.8 million to raise the recycling rate of household waste from 1.6% to 10%, and to accelerate the inclusion of waste pickers.

In addition to the countries cited above, there are stories from India, South Africa, Dubai, Fiji, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Honduras.

More than 3,800 news items about the informal economy have been published by WIEGO since 2014, helping to build capacity among informal worker organisations, expanding the knowledge base, and influencing local, national and international policies. At the same time, stories from around the world put local efforts in context.

For example, a new project to install Sustainability Stations throughout the city of Curtiba, Brazil is remarkably relevant to Chennai. Under the banner of education for sustainability, Curtiba’s Department of Environment is making a major effort to engage the population in the management of recyclable waste. The intent is to change the culture of the population in the sorting of waste, making it responsible for separation and for rethinking waste production.

“We want to involve citizens in the management of solid waste, optimise selective collection, and create a mechanism of social inclusion by delegating the management of waste collected for recycling to cooperatives or associations,” explains the Municipal Environment Secretary, Renato Lima.

Sustainability stations are part of the Voluntary Delivery System of Recyclable Waste, whereby citizens bring their waste to a modified shipping container that will receive 12 types of recyclable materials. The program provides for the deployment of at least one station in each of the 75 districts of Curitiba, with each unit intended to serve residents within a 300-meter radius. Outreach staff from the Department of Environment will go door-to-door to announce the installation of each new station, and distribute a booklet with guidelines for proper separation and disposal of recyclable materials.

The current scheme follows Curtiba’s rewards-based recycling program Câmbio Verde (Green Exchange) that was launched in 1991. It began as an exchange of waste for bus passes but soon included basic food staples exchanged for waste.

The idea became the model for the Mexican city of Puebla where a program Monedero Ecológico (Ecological Wallet) was started in 2010. This private sector program gives residents a credit for every kilogram of solid waste they bring in. The credit can then be used for discounts on school supplies, cell phone minutes, clothes and food.

It is interesting to note that Curtiba’s current policy of citizen engagement and voluntary delivery of recyclables comes decades after its selective collection project.  Curtiba shut down its dump in 1988 and the following year began collecting and separating recyclable materials (glass, plastics, paper) three times a week under its renowned Lixo Que Não é Lixo (Trash That Is Not Trash) program. The deployment of dedicated recyclable collection points along with active citizen participation is a progression that will ostensibly result in economies of scale, improved quality and value of recyclables, and new skills for waste pickers.

Clearly, advocacy organizations such as WIEGO can be enormously valuable sources of information. They are more than 3,000 publications and resources on its website. There is a vast repository of working papers, organising, legal, technical, statistical and policy briefs, and profiles of workers’ lives. In many ways, the wheel does not have to be reinvented.

India is in the early stages of modern and effective municipal waste management. Concepts and details such as legal frameworks, integrated waste management, use of voluntary drop-off points, organised waste picker associations and cooperatives, waste education, and inclusion are in most instances still only ideas or early experiments.

At the same time, the challenges cannot be underestimated. On the issue of inclusion alone, researchers describe the process as “bumpy”, pointing out that “[w]here inclusion is taken up by the municipality with the intent of increasing recycling rates, waste picker cooperatives must negotiate a host of issues, including access to equipment and space, coordination of sales to maximise pricing across seasons, materials and geography, and the difficulty of resolving conflicts within the waste picking sector itself.”  Furthermore, even in apparently successful situations, efficient waste management is not labour intensive enough to absorb all or even a small share of the people who survive on trash scavenging. In Bogota, for example, an estimated 14,000 people survive as waste pickers, while the inclusion process provides incomes for 700 people. And although inclusion can be part of a broader social agenda that incorporates microenterprise development, such programs depend on resources outside the typical portfolio of a city waste collection agency. To truly address the needs of waste pickers, waste management modernisation must be coupled with broader social policies.

That said, avail yourselves of the resources of such exemplary organizations as WIEGO. You will be educated and encouraged.


– Written by Michael Lytton. Kabadiwalla Connect is a Chennai-based project that aims at reducing waste sent to urban landfills by leveraging the potential of the informal sector. Our partners include Gubbi Labs and the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability, IIT-Madras. Read the post on their blog.


Picture sources

  1. http://wiego.org/sites/wiego.org/files/Waste-Pickers-1.jpg
  2. http://wiego.org/sites/wiego.org/files/leslie%20tuttle%20general%20assembly%20ga%202010%20brazil%20belo%20horizonte%20coopersoli%20wastepickers%20workers%20-%2025_0.jpg
  3. http://wiego.org/sites/wiego.org/files/ctools/colombia%20waste%20pickers%2061.jpg

REST OF THE SERIES

The #InvisibleRecyclers Campaign


BUILDING A VISUAL ARCHIVE OF INFORMAL WASTE NETWORKS


kabadiwalla

MUSINGS ON WASTE (Part 3)

We’re excited to announce the launch of Kabadiwalla Connect’s latest initiative #InvisibleRecyclers, an Instagram campaign aimed at making informal waste networks more visible to the public. Through #InvisibleRecyclers, we want to celebrate the services of the city’s scrap-dealers and rag-pickers in recycling waste. A team of volunteers from C.A.R.E, the Eco Club from Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering, walked the city on April 4th 2015 to take pictures of scrap-dealers (kabadiwallas), itinerant buyers (raddiwallas) and waste-pickers, which were then uploaded on Instagram and aggregated on the Kabadiwalla Connect website.

The goal: creating visibility

Everyday, Chennai generates around 4500 tons of waste – which is dumped in landfills – and this statistic is set to exponentially grow over the years. The informal waste sector performs a vital service by keeping waste out of the landfill, and sending it to be recycled instead.

However, despite this, popular perceptions of the informal waste sector in Indian cities remain negative because of their association with waste. This isn’t the case across the globe, though – for instance, in Brazil, the government has legally acknowledged the services of informal players and implemented programs that incorporate them into formal waste management mechanisms. They are also celebrated by the public because of the work they do.

The campaign aims to create a sense of legitimacy around the players in this sector – scrap-dealers, rag-pickers and itinerant buyers, to name a few. Keeping this goal in mind, #InvisibleRecyclers was designed to create a visual archive of informal waste workers, and capture a sense of how they function.

Piloting the campaign

Around 40 volunteers from C.A.R.E spent a day in the city identifying and visually documenting scrap-dealers, rag-pickers, itinerant buyers and even communities who recycle, which were later uploaded on Instagram. The volunteers collected around 400 pictures.

Pictures that volunteers took over the weekend can be found at www.kabadiwallaconnect.in/invisiblerecyclers.

While the campaign has been launched in Chennai, we are looking to expand it to other Indian cities as well.

Some of the pictures taken as part of the campaign

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Inviting community collaborators

If you’d like to contribute to #InvisibleRecyclers, here’s how:

  1. Take a picture of scrap-dealers, waste-pickers, or anyone else in the informal waste ecosystem.

  2. Hashtag #InvisibleRecyclers,  #KabadiwallaConnect & #[your_city]. Add a description.

  3. Keep your location services on. This helps curate photos from different cities around the world.

  4. Post it on Instagram. Watch it come up on our site! Share this page on your social networks!

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


MUSINGS ON WASTE (Part 2) 
MUSINGS ON WASTE (Part 1)

Historical Perspectives on the Informal Waste Sector


kabadiwalla

MUSINGS ON WASTE (Part 1)

Ever year, 42 million tons of waste is generated in India, which is the same as the amount of wheat Australia produces annually

Like most countries that are growing quickly and witnessing rapid urbanization, India is beginning to face serious concerns regarding the disposal of its waste. Until now, most urban local governments have adopted an approach to waste management that is neither sustainable nor particularly responsible – identifying landfill sites, filling them with mixed waste for periods that can stretch over decades, and eventually moving on to a new location.

The problem, though, is that leachate and toxins from untreated waste can affect a particular region for years, which is why municipal corporations are now finding it more and more difficult to appropriate areas to convert into landfills. In Bangalore, for instance, the residents of a village called Mavallipura, adjoining one of the city’s primary landfills, resisted efforts to continue disposing of waste in their backyard in 2012; the result was tens of thousands of tons of untreated waste, deposited on the streets of the city. Chennai, on the other hand, is currently routing its waste to two peripheral landfills – both of which will be reaching the end of their lifespan by the end of the year. As of now, no replacement area has been found.

Ironically, urban authorities do not need to face the challenge of sustainable waste management on their own. Most Indian cities have a robust industry of waste ‘experts’ – collectors, transporters and even recyclers – who make a livelihood out of waste, albeit under the radar. Most households sell old newspapers and cardboard to their neighbourhood kabadiwallas, but these men are merely the tip of the iceberg; in fact, the informal waste sector includes not just grassroot-level waste collectors, but series of middlemen who aggregate, sort and transport waste to the appropriate recycling facility – thus keeping it out of the landfill.

The Waste Chain

From a historical perspective, informal waste economies – at least as they are recognized today – began to develop around the 19th century. This was mainly in Europe and largely a by-product of urbanization and industrialization. As urban centres began to form and expand, the quantity of waste generated by them shot up as well. Simultaneously, the spread of the industrial revolution led to an increased demand for raw material, which proved to be infinitely cheaper when sourced from waste. As a result, an informal sector that began to identify items of value within waste streams, and then source, aggregate, process and eventually recycle them, began to form.

Spatially speaking, informal waste industries have organically formed in developing countries. While the first scavenging sectors sprung up in Europe, waste management systems in these countries were soon formalised and steered by local governing bodies, removing any room for unorganised private entities to continue making a living off waste.

However, the reverse has been true for countries such as India, Brazil, Serbia and Cambodia. These countries have witnessed rapid urbanisation, which directly translates to a huge increase in waste generation. They also experience large-scale migration of unskilled, untrained labour towards cities, most of which have no option but to turn to informal occupations such as waste-picking. Moreover, as countries develop more, their urban centres tend to produce a higher proportion of dry waste (paper, plastic, metal and the like), which have huge markets as raw material for the manufacturing sector.

On the other hand, their local governance mechanisms have not yet developed to the point of completely taking over the workspace of informal players. In India, for example, municipal corporations have the infrastructure and capacity to collect an average of only 70 percent of municipal solid waste, and even less to actually process it. This creates the ideal working conditions for a parallel shadow economy to operate.

Very few attempts have been made to actually map out and quantify the informal waste industries in different countries. Largely, this is because it’s extremely difficult – most waste-pickers and small-scale processors work under the radar and prefer to keep it that way, so as to avoid any form of harassment from city authorities. The sector itself is also a fairly disorganised one, with a huge overlap between activities, scale and hierarchy, making it tough to actually categorise its layers. However, there are exceptions to the rule. The Brazilian government, for instance, has formally recognized waste-picking as an occupation and included it as a category in their official census. This has also allowed it to introduce various schemes to better incorporate these entities into formal waste management mechanisms.

In doing so, Brazil has tapped into a potential answer to waste management concerns that most developing countries can learn from: the informal sector has huge capacity for keeping waste out of landfills. As a community, these players have a lot more collective experience in dealing with waste profitably (and as a consequence, responsibly) than most local governments. They have organised themselves into a form of hierarchy based on scale, with lower-rung rag-pickers accessing waste from dumpsites, landfills and formal collection cycles, and higher-level middleman aggregating and segregating waste streams according to market demand. Scrap-dealers at the highest end of the waste chain deal with hundreds of tons of a particular waste category on a daily basis, supplying in bulk to manufacturers looking for cheaper sources of raw material.

Incorporating parallel economies into our formal mechanisms is far from an easy task; it involves policy-level decisions and some forceful execution to actually leverage the potential of the informal sector. On the other hand, given the kind of waste crisis that Indian cities are facing, this doesn’t seem to be an option we can ignore.


– Written by Kavya Balaraman & Illustrated by Satwik Gade. Kabadiwalla Connect is a Chennai-based project that aims at reducing waste sent to urban landfills by leveraging the potential of the informal sector. Our partners include Gubbi Labs and the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability, IIT-Madras. Read the post on their blog.


Sources

‘Municipal Solid Waste Management in Indian Cities – A Review’ – Mufeed Sharholy, Kafeel Ahmad, Gauhar Mahmood and RC Trivedi

‘Waste Picker Cooperatives in Developing Countries’ – Martin Medina

‘The World’s Scavengers’ – Martin Medina

‘Statistics on Waste Pickers in Brazil’ – WIEGO 

Green thing

While waiting at the billing counter of a store, the cashier informed an old woman that she should have brought her own grocery bag because plastic bags aren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The cashier replied, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”

He was right. Our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so we could use the same bottles over and over again.

But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We climbed up the stairs and didn’t have to think about escalators and elevators all the time. We walked to the grocery store. We didn’t have to take a 300-horsepower machine to get two blocks away.

We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed our babies’ diapers, for we couldn’t just throw and use another one. We dried the clothes on a line. They didn’t need an energy gobbling machine that was burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power dried the clothes. Kids survived with hand-me-down clothes given away by sisters and brothers. We didn’t shuffle malls for clothes for every day of the week.

Who’s Television? We had one radio at our house. The odd guy had one TV shared by everyone on the street, with a screen the size of a handkerchief.

We blended and stirred by hand to cook. We wrapped and smothered fragile items in old newspaper to snail mail them. We pushed around a mower to tame our lawns. And we didn’t need treadmills or electricity to stay fit!

I don’t think we had the green thing back in our days.

People took the train, maybe the bus or a tram. Children rode bicycles or walked all the way to school. The nearest pizza joint wasn’t found using a computerized gadget receiving signals from satellites 2000 miles away floating in space.

But it’s true we didn’t have the green thing back in our days. Isn’t it sad that the present generation laments at how wasteful we were just because we didn’t have the green thing in our hay days?”

**

This email forward is a good look at how actually the great uncontrolled boom of technological and industrial developments has increased our impacts on the environment today. However, it will never be a possibility that all six billion people forget televisions, computers, telephones, airplanes, satellites, escalators and elevators. It’s not that we were not exploiting the environment back in those days. We just simply didn’t know that we were and anyway continued to try making things easy for ourselves. It’s the couch potato dream, where every human fights the fight with humans and money and industries and institutions, just for the sake of this ultimate life where everything is served on a platter, and with each generations the choices on that platter will increase. We love laziness, ignorance and bliss as a species.