The business of trash

The business of trash

As the City is slowly acquainting itself with the rigours of waste management, a section of shopkeepers at Jolly Mohalla — a two-street scrap market tucked under the BGS Flyover — is laughing.

For them, segregation is nothing old; they’ve been silently making a livelihood out of it for the last three decades or so and many of them are slightly amused by the recent importance attached to it.

The market is as unassuming as it is well-organised. At first glance, the entire mohalla appears to be a whirlwind of trash — closer inspection, though, reveals the piles of segregated waste, the labelled gunny bags and the well-oiled transport system that ships the segregated trash to the outskirts of the City.

At its most basic level, Jolly Mohalla functions as a sort of intermediary between ragpickers and recycling centres. But over the years, the inhabitants of this market have institutionalised this process down to the last detail.

Syed, who runs one of the shops at the mohalla, explains that most of the businesses here are family-owned, passed down through generations.

His store deals exclusively in scrap plastic. “We receive plastic from across the City, mostly from ragpickers and kabaadi wallahs. In some cases, we even buy trash from sweepers — there are many levels to the business of waste,” he explains.

Syed buys plastic in all forms and charges accordingly. “We have a system of fixed rates. For instance, a kilogram of milk packets is priced at eight rupees, we buy the soles of shoes and chappals at four rupees per kilogram and polythene bags at three.

We also get huge quantities of piping — for which we charge ten rupees. On an average, we make a profit of 25 paise on each kilogram,” he states. This plastic is then shipped to a recycling centre in Nayandahalli, he adds, where it is further processed.

The mohalla doesn’t restrict itself just to plastic, though — massive quantities of paper, glass, scrap metal and even electronic waste are brought here everyday.

Murtaza, who works at a shop that deals in glass — bottles, jars and the like — explains that each trader at the mohalla has a private deal with either a recycling centre or a middleman who is connected to one.

While most of the plastic is shipped to the industrial area of Nayandahalli, paper is transported to Kumbalgodu and other such centres also exist in places like Bommasandra.

“When ragpickers bring bottles here, they sell the caps to the metal dealers and hand the bottles over to us. Our job is to price them, store them and then organise to transport them to a centre. Most of the shops here have established connections with these centres, and sell to them on pre-fixed terms,” he says.

That the market operates in an organised fashion is evident — especially since some of the traders, such as Syed, have certificates from the Karnataka Plastic Scrap Merchants Association that license their businesses. But given the kind of impact that a place like Jolly Mohalla could have if incorporated into the BBMP’s waste-management programme, it’s surprising that the traders here still feel neglected.

“After all, we’re helping the government to segregate waste. But very little is done to support us — on the contrary, we are taxed for each kilogram of scrap that comes into the store,” admits Syed, adding that given the fact that the traders also have to bear the cost of transporting trash to recycling centres, their margin of profit is fairly limited.

However, Rajneesh Goel, the BBMP commissioner, points out that through the network created to handle waste, a lot of the City’s trash collected by the body actually ends up at Jolly Mohalla. “Through our association with bodies like the SWMRT (Solid Waste Management Round Table), we are linked to the traders at the mohalla.

Of course, when it comes to other micro-issues, we haven’t had a change to interact with them. But we are open to any kind of association,” he explains.

The problem, feels Wilma Rodrigues — from Saahas, an NGO dedicated to the issue of waste management — is that very little support is extended to these traders. “All these years, they’ve been functioning under an informal mechanism — but what they need right now is aid in simple forms.

For example, it would help to put up proper units and shops at the market, and provide shelter for the traders. There’s so much scope in encouraging this business because it ultimately means that less waste is going into the landfill,” she concludes.

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