Kabadiwallas

As I was walking home from the market yesterday, I noticed the waste from one of the neighbourhood tailors. It was so distressing to see a pile of beautiful fabric scraps just thrown into a pile of mixed waste (and a rat running through to scavenge from the rotting food). There is so much that could have been made if only someone had collected those scraps.

The second image is one of a garbage truck filled with that mixed waste before it heads to a landfill. Garbage in Bangalore is a bit complicated to understand. Most people seem to just put all their wet and dry waste into a plastic bag at their curb. Early in the morning women dressed in saris sweep the streets, pick up these bags as they go, and put the waste into barrels on their push carts. Then it gets loaded onto these small trucks and taken to the dump.

Of course, this is the out of sight/out of mind framework: as long as it’s out of my house and I don’t have to see it or smell it, it’s fine with me.

There are no recycling bins or municipal pick up, at least in my part of the city (one of my students told me that she has such services in the Sarjapur Road area, but that must be specific to her area or community).

For the rest of us, recycling is something that one has to both figure out yourself and also take to the appropriate places yourself. That’s where the kabadiwalla comes in. These are people who collect recyclable materials, weigh them, and give you cash for them. In turn, they sell the materials to someone who can reuse and/or recycle them.

The kabadiwalls come through the neighbourhood at various times to collect your goods. You can hear them shouting out “paper!” as they ride by on their bicycles. Unfortunately, I’m never fast enough to catch them so I went to one near my house to see what they would recycle. As you can see from the left-hand photo above, the space the average kabadiwalla has to store their goods is extremely limited. So this one takes only paper/cardboard and metal. They weigh your goods and give you money for your recyclables. For my stack of newspaper above I received ₹101 (I think for around 10 kg).

The Daily Dump has a study they did in 2011 on the kabadiwalla system in Bangalore. Their report shows how much more knowledgeable and efficient kabadiwallas are, especially when compared to the municipality (BBMP). They followed Suresh, one of the kabadiwallas, for a day and the reader gets a clear sense of what his life is like and how he works. As a result of this report, the Daily Dump set up Recycle Guru (though it seems only in the Indira Nagar area thus far) to better help kabadiwallas connect with those of us eager to recycle our goods. It also aims to help customers change their (often negative) perceptions of the kabadiwalla). Ultimately, if this programme can be enlarged on a city-wide scale it would empower this sector rather than let the BBMP take it over. It certainly is more efficient, but there does need to be a way to expand their space so that they can collect all the various categories of waste. Otherwise if businesses like Pom Pom come to Bangalore, I fear that the kabadiwallas’ work will be at risk.

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