'Who does the waste belong to?'

making profit

'Who does the waste belong to?'

It took the BBMP until last October, when it finally woke up to the realisation that the City was facing a full-fledged garbage crisis, to put its solid-waste management programme into place.

   But this system is neither the first nor the only attempt at recycling to exist in Bangalore. For years now, a network of kabadiwallahs, middlemen, plastic-recycling centres and paper mills have been creating a livelihood out of dry waste.

Given the fact that often it is the BBMP-hired pourakarmikas themselves who are selling dry waste to third parties, it is evident that there is a need for a revaluation of the situation — either in terms of laying down clarity regarding the ownership of waste or through an attempt to streamline the processes, at the very least ensuring
that they both co-exist without causing hindrance to the other.

“One central issue that has to be addressed is this — who does the waste belong to?” questions V Ravichandar, from the Bangalore City Connect Foundation. “Say a contractor comes to my house and I hand my waste to him — does the BBMP then own this waste? Is the contractor obligated to take it to a dry-waste collection centre? As of now, there isn’t any clarity on this. Many pourakarmikas sell the waste on their own in order to earn extra income,” he informs.

This waste is then transported through a routine which isn’t very different from what exists at the dry-waste collection centres. “Whatever the pourakarmikas sell is recycled. The very fact that someone is willing to buy it from them indicates that there is a secondary market.

There are various pockets in the City where recycling is carried out for different reasons. For instance, a lot of the City’s plastic is recycled in Nayandahalli and at centres along Mysore Road. Paper and cardboard generally go to paper-mills — for example, ITC and South India Paper Mills — where they are mixed with the contents of virgin paper,” says Wilma Rodrigues, from Saahas.

These large-scale enterprises aren’t the only ones which have shown interest in waste. Bhargavi S Rao, trustee and coordinator (education programmes) at Environment Support Group, explains, “Every neighbourhood has a small waste-collection centre. In fact, even newspaper collectors will buy cardboard and other valuable dry waste like plastic because they understand that there’s more money in it. There are smaller companies which are willing to pay for it.”

At face level, this would seem like a good thing since the waste is essentially being recycled. But there are a few problems that crop up because of it.

“Firstly, there’s the very basic issue that heating plastic releases toxic matter into the air. The Pollution Control Board needs to set up a process to regulate these recycling centres. A large quantity of plastic is burned down and then converted into pots and buckets, which are sold in low-income neighbourhoods. The centres which manufacture these aren’t always aware of the standards of pollution maintenance,” explains Bhargavi.

The second problem is that since the pourakarmikas have now understood that they can make a substantial income through scooping off the cream of their collection, dry-waste collection centres in the City are having a tough time. Thanks to high operation costs, these collection centres sustain themselves through balancing high-grade and low-grade waste — the latter being waste that requires more money to be recycled than its scrap value. But with high-grade waste being siphoned off, collection centres are finding themselves faced with large quantities of low-grade trash. “The more high-grade waste that comes to the collection centre, the most cost effective it is,” explains Wilma.

“Sometimes, the pourakarmikas don’t take the effort to even bring the low-grade waste to the centres. This is the garbage that we see lying on the streets,” she adds.
Should the BBMP make an effort to collaborate with these agents and streamline the process?

“The problem isn’t that there are multiple channels through which waste is being recycled,” Wilma explains, adding that there needs to be more regulation to ensure that waste isn’t separated based on its value and accordingly sent to different destinations.

“The BBMP’s mandate is to follow the solid-waste management rules and ensure that recyclable waste doesn’t end up in the landfill. As long as that is the end result, why can’t all these other systems exist? There can be multiple solutions to the problem.”

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