Notes from Nayandahalli
‘Cities are engines of growth’ is an old cliché statement. For economic growth and well being of mankind they consume the resources sourced from faraway lands and release matter termed as waste. It is imperative to frame the discourse of sustainability in cities around the questions of ‘flow of matter’ i.e. where is the material coming from and where is it going after its usage? It is also must to state that hinterland is not always the resource provider. Cities do sustain each other with the exchange of matter manufactured in the eco-system of cities. The dichotomy between what is resource and what is waste is not very clear. Waste too becomes a resource. It has inherent value which is evolved over a period of time with the help of market mechanisms. Recycling, up-cycling and down cycling are all ways of taking the waste in and transforming it into resource. Provide the same as raw material for industries dotting urban –rural landscapes. This is the story of waste and the journey it embarks on before becoming resource and further, a finished product.
Journey of waste begins in Bengaluru. City is now being termed as ‘garbage city’ of India. Such a title is not welcome at all. Contradiction comes out when we mention that Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan ranked it to be one of cleanest capitals of India. Let us assume that it is comparably clean, but lot needs to be done.
Bengaluru consumes resources and generates waste like all other cities. It is estimated that city generates around 3000-5000 tons of waste every day. Does it all go to the dump yard? Nope! 1050 tons reaches the informal waste economy. This is an approximate number provided by Hasiru Dala- a membership based organization of wastepickers and other informal waste workers.
Hasiru Dala works with wastepickers and scrap dealers for social and livelihood security. Wastepickers and scrap dealers are important agents of a process which transforms waste into resource or raw material. Their livelihood security very much depends on this transformation. From past two-three years of formal and informal operations we at Hasiru Dala realized that we are yet to grasp the whole picture of informal waste economy.
You must be realizing it by now that it is turning out to be the story of informal waste economy. We will be telling anecdotes, tales, life experiences and narratives of work force in informal waste economy. Story of waste and people of waste!
In Hasiru Dala, we know about door to door collection done by sanitary workers. Informality and livelihood insecurity in the ‘formal waste collection systems’ leads to leakage of recyclables. The recyclables reach itinerant buyers. Kabadiwallas also go for collection of waste. They collect materials like glass, metal and paper on paid basis from residents; provide it to material specific itinerant buyers. Wastepickers collect waste which has value from neighborhood black spots (small dumping yards dotting all over the landscape of the city), streets and even households where door to door collection is yet to begin and sell it to itinerant buyers. Beyond this point we were not very clear about the journey undertaken by waste. This curiosity for knowing the destination of waste forced us to look beyond our comfort zone i.e. wastepickers and scrap dealers.
We have decided to track the waste and the stations it passes through before reaching our homes back again. We can’t be running all over the place and preferred a fixed geographical location.
Nayandahalli is our destination. All the trucks after picking up waste/material from itinerant buyers reach Nayandahalli.
Nayandahalli, Bangalore is our place of observation. Nayandahalli is where all stockists are based. Itinerant buyers sell the materials collected in sorted unsorted form to stockists. Stockists, at times referred as recyclers, are also sorters. They and their workers sort the waste in categories numbering from 5-25 depending on the type of material. The stockists like to term themselves as Godown wallas. After sorting the waste they send it to factories for pre-processing and processing. Once processed a large chunk of waste comes out in a new form of manufactured material or finished product. It reaches our home. We use it. Once the usage is over it again follows the above cycle. This process is what erases the binary between waste and resource. The factories engaged in processing and pre-processing of material, are also based in Nayandahalli. Nayandahalli is our classroom for next one whole year where we will be traversing with waste. This is the story of waste, people of the waste and Nayandahalli as urban waste ecosystem.
Some pre-processed materials or just sorted waste travel beyond Nayandahalli. After a long tedious journey in the trucks, it reaches factories in North and West of India, where it takes a new form and return to us again in the form of manufactured product.
The scale of operations of informal waste economy is huge. The numbers are not yet clear. According to the estimates provided by godown owners in Nayandahalli, each godown on an average takes in 10 tons of waste/material every week. Sort it in different categories. Almost 6 tons of sorted material is sent to different factories. Rest 4 tons is reject. This is currently picked by the trucks of cement factories and sugar mills. They use it as fuel for production.
The study is ongoing. The outcomes will take time to evolve. The reflections during the process are worth sharing. We will be publishing a series of reflections and stories of waste, people of waste and Nayandahalli as urban ecosystem as blog-posts on Waste Narratives. This will help us in learning –unlearning our biases and prejudices about informal waste economy. Foster our understanding about the relationship between sustainability and informality. It will also support us in knowing the challenges and strengths of informal waste economy. By the end we hope that we will be able to come up with a position paper which will frame recommendations for informal waste economy. The study is being supported by Indian Institute for Human Settlements.
Contributions in the ongoing series will be made by Nalini Shekar, Pinky Chandran, Kabir Arora, Marwan Abubaker, Shreyas Sreenath and Malleswari Baddela