4 November 2010

Garbage Evangelism

In our cities, an overflowing garbage bin by the roadside is a common sight. Not only is the bin filled to the brim, but because of the stink, many do not even bother to empty their waste into the bin but rather around it. This leads to the perfect eyesore. The bins are also magnets for many young adults in the recycling business. Many a times, perched on top or by the side of the bin, is a young man in tatters, rummaging through the garbage, quietly sorting out what would get him money and what won't.

Does it have to be this way?

There is certainly money in Garbage. Otherwise, no young man would be going through it without as much as a glove or face mask. Ergo, I have been contemplating a business with my title being Garbage Evangelist.
To me what is distasteful is someone having to dig through muck to find their gold. What if we can convince householders to sort the waste themselves? And then have the recyclers pick them up from home? The biggest problem here is convincing people to sort their waste. It requires commitment and space. There in lies the biggest caveat of my business idea. There are so many apartment complexes that I see springing up (even my own for that matter) where if people were to sort their waste, not only would it benefit the environment, but that perfect eyesore may actually get less stinky. It amazes me that no one in this building is bothered that right at the entrance of our complex are two bins exactly as I have been describing above. This is also Banjara Hills, the 90210 of Hyderabad, yet no one considers the garbage bins worth their attention. Apathy I suppose, is a different rant altogether.

My vegetable vendor commented the other day that in the 15 years he has existed in his corner I am the only regular customer to bring a bag! I was quite happy to note that at the Ryathu Bazaar, you have to bring your own bag or buy one (plastic!!) before you enter the market. This was a tangential self complimentary passage.

I am interested in knowing how it would be possible to organize the "recyclers", engage the locality with them and set up a chain of "door to recycling" system. It means integrating newspaper and bottle collection walas, the people who pick through garbage, the household/ industry that generates waste and the people who run the recycling plants. Maybe such a system already exists and those of us who recycle can plug into it? I have been discussing this idea with many people and they all agree that the biggest problem is convincing people to sort their waste. One person suggested providing an incentive to sort - coupons to the local beauty parlour! This was spawned because we assumed that it's women who would do the sorting and making it lucrative for them might be a way to go.

What I am certain of, is that this cannot be an NGO idea. We can't expect people to act from the goodness of their heart; empowerment to the recyclers too can only come through capitalism. I don't have an MBA but what I know of business is that there is going to be profit and loss. I understand that selling the sorted stuff makes money but would that be enough to cover the cost of labour and incentives? Also, I would like this model to provide a mechanism for the recyclers to benefit from the amount of work their put in - more households they convince to sort, the more "clean" garbage they collect, the more their dividends should be.

One thing that really bothers me about my current recycling program is that all I know is that my maid gets money for all the things I set aside. But what happens to them once they are sold? Does it really make it to a recycling plant? It yes, what does each item recycle into?

My thoughts on this post are the like thoughts in my head about this matter: scattered. But I am certain that there is merit in the idea. Anyone know more about what I am talking about?

On a similar issue, a friend pointed it out to a blog to me, a group that actually acts on its rants: http://www.theuglyindian.com/


  1. Interesting, esp your comment that this needs to be a capitalist approach.

    Why don't you join our Facebook page

    Maybe we could suggest how you could start?

  2. Ola theugly.

    I don't do facebook...yet. I noticed from your website that you are Bangalore based. I will be moving there in some time and would love to join you all in the clean up acts. Garbage evangelism as a calling card would have to wait till I move. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Dear Megha,
    Garbage recycling has been around for some time now, we just need to bring it back into 'fashion'. I don't know about all parts of India, but it was fairly common in WB to have people go around door-to-door calling out for old bottles, newspapers, cardboard boxes and the like. They even pay for this! The problem is that these days selling (and thus recycling) these things is considered to be extremely 'uncool' and 'stingy' and 'typical of lower middle class' while dumping it in the trash (or whereever, once you are done with it) is hip and suggests that you have enough money to not care. So noone wants to do it because of the stigma attached to this...
    Maybe we need an awareness program more than anything else?
    Just my two cents. I like your initiative a lot and hope that it works, at least in your building.
    Love, Shoots :)

    ps. I should have written a mail instead of this epic comment. Hope you are well...

  4. Hey Shoots, I too remember the door to door recyclers. There is a chap who visits my apartment as well but he only takes paper, no plastic, even when the plastic I have is recyclable!
    Awareness is right. I have been meaning to do a survey of commonly used items in our homes and bring out a little fridge list of things that can be recycled. Something we got in Seattle to help us sort out the trash.
    Nothing I suggest is revolutionary - what we need is for Shah Rukh Khan or Dhoni to endorse it and then it will sell!!!