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Recycling a pathway to success


FEBRUARY 15, 1996


Recycling a pathway to success

Eighth in a daily series on creative urban solutions from Habitat II’s “Best Practices.”


NEW DELHI, India-Mohammed Shahid sat by the door of his shack watching a father

and son team sorting out plastic pens, refills and other odds and ends that had come out of

a huge garbage bag. Outside the shack were a dozen gunny sacks bulging with newspapers, bottles, tin cans, plastic containers all, separated by his team of garbage collectors.  There were no signboards proclaiming that the little shack situated in a slum outside the residential area of East of Kailash was a garbage collectors shop. But as Shahid pointed out there was no need to identify his flourishing business, all he really needed was the weighing balance that hung outside his shack to conduct a business which not only helps the local authorities to keep the city cleaner but also gives 10 people employment.

“I have been working at this trade for 10 years,” he said, “And I make about 5,000 rupees a month.” [That is the equivalent of roughly US$120.]   Shahid never finished school, he dropped out after the 10th grade but as a business man and employer he does not regret it.

His garbage men collect around 500 to a 1000 kilograms of used items a day and .after sorting it out he sells it to different factories that recycle the items. He pays his employees according to the weight of the items they bring in. Newspapers command one price by the kilogram, plastics and glass another, but everyone makes a living and in a city of 9.5 million people where migration from rural areas and even other towns is a daily occurrence, Shahid like thousands of other, garbage collectors serves a vital purpose. For decades recycling, which is just being recognized as a necessity in the industrialized world, has been a part of everyday life for millions in developing countries. With cheap labor and a tradition that goes back centuries, almost every household in a city like New Delhi sorts out newspapers, plastics, glass and other scrap which)s sold to garbage collectors who go on daily rounds of homes collecting junk which they in turn sell to people like Shahid.  Everyone makes a little money and the incentives are created to recycle just about everything that can be recycled.

A few streets away a boy with a sack on his back and his little .brother  with  a cardboard carton on his head walk along pavements of a middle class housing area. They rummage through some garbage dumps and fill their containers with junk their father will sell later to Shahid Janan the bigger brother is about seven years old and is careful with his little brother when it comes to crossing the streets with the crazy Delhi traffic. He said his family has just come from the state of West Bengal. He and his brother help the father collecting garbage while his mother works as a domestic. They have a big family to feed, three brothers and two sisters, and he feels good about helping his father to earn some money.

It is not an ideal life but in a poor country where there are few ch9ices the art of recycling provides the means to feed many families.