A journey of rags from home to street

Capstone City Environment Karnataka Ragpickers

Fewer ragpickers are willing to collect glass waste owing to the low resale value and fragility of glass.

Marie, a 48-year-old woman who has been working for 30 years now in one of the glass waste recycling depots in the Jolly Mohalla in Bangalore, while sitting amidst a heap of glass waste in a pink saree. She calmly sorted and cleaned the glass bottles with her bruised hands. There was a seriousness in her face, which describes her condition. Regardless of the work she does for them, she only gets Rs 300. 

Most of the Bangalore ragpickers, like Marie, is facing livelihood issues due to the low resale value of glass waste. Working in these uncertain environments where there is no guaranteed pay is putting a lot of mental pressure on them. Moreover, this whole situation has been creating an adverse impact on those rag pickers who have been in this business for a long time.

A ragpicker, Innool works in a scrap and waste godown in Thattiguni. He collected all types of scraps, like plastic, glass, etc., and took them to the godown. There is no guarantee how much ragpickers will get in return from these glass bottles because the profit depends on their weight. “We work in scorching heat and collect waste, but there is no guarantee of how much we will be paid. “Everything depends on its weight,” he said.

Ragpickers are facing a loss not just from today but for many years. The people for whom ragpickers work make their profit by selling the waste at a higher margin to other dealers. On the other hand, ragpickers get less pay for the scrap and waste they collect. Moreover, they do not have any other option than to continue their work.

Another ragpicker, Mohammad Milan, said that rates of glass bottles are fluctuating too much. In the factory where he works, the rate for beer bottles is Rs. 3 per kg, and his owner pays him Rs. 1 per kg for it. Milan comes from Banerghatta riding his owner’s three-tier vehicle. He collects mostly plastic and sometimes glass waste and takes it back to Bannerghatta, where there is a small godown of scrap. Not only the low rates but also the transportation costs take a toll on him.

Milan came along with his wife from Assam to Bangalore in search of work. He met a Bengularian who gave him work to collect waste at a time when Milan was struggling to find a livelihood for his family. The situation and the need for money forced him to agree.

Condition of rag-pickers 

According to 2013 research by a local waste picker welfare organization, rag pickers alone in Bengaluru gather and recycle roughly 600 metric tonnes of waste every day. They also help India’s solid waste management efforts by ensuring that recyclable materials like paper, metals, and PET bottles do not end up in the country’s already overburdened landfills.

However, waste pickers, on the other hand, receive no benefits, legal protection, or security from the government in exchange for their vital services. According to the report, there was no direct recognition of their efforts until the 2016 Solid Waste Management Rules were enacted, and there is still no single law that explicitly recognizes their profession today.  

Milan has to pay approximately Rs. 2000 per day only for transportation. “Loss ho raha hain hum logon ko, etna dhoop main mehnat karte hain aur hme milta kitna hain ek rupaye. He also said, “Humare owner jyda kama rahe hain aur hme koi fayda nahi ho rha hain, etna kaam krne ke baad bhi,” he also said.  

“Loss ho raha hain hum logon ko, etna dhoop main mehnat karte hain aur hme milta kitna hain ek rupaye. Humare owner jyda kama rahe hain aur hme koi fayda nahi ho rha hain, etna kaam krne ke baad bhi.”  

Mohammad Milan

Nazeer, owner of Shyam Enterprise, said that there is a high investment and low return in collecting and reselling glass bottles. “For a new glass bottle, the cost is Rs. 12 to Rs. 13 per bottle, but when we resale that old bottle, the value dips to Rs. 3.”

Exclusion from healthcare services   

A dealer of scrap and waste, Haider said that glass waste is fragile and comes with a lot of danger, which is why more people try to avoid doing this work. A lot of precautions have to be taken while handling glass waste. If some things happen, we have to wear protective gear and keep first aid ready. “In a year, two to three people cut their hands while handling glass waste,” said Raju, a scrap and waste dealer and aggregator.  

The Vidhi’s report also pointed out that waste pickers suffer from a variety of diseases as a result of their exposure to putrid and dangerous wastes at dump yards and landfills, including skin problems, musculoskeletal ailments, respiratory disorders, cuts, and needle wounds. Waste pickers, on the other hand, are unaware of a variety of government health insurance and subsidy programmes that might benefit their health and well-being owing to their lack of recognition.

Rag pickers from BBMP’s dry waste collection centre   

Krishna, the in-charge person of Domlur, dry waste collection centre (DWCC), said that any alcohol glass bottles imported from abroad are not reused by any dealers in India. However, the dealers who used to take other glass bottles like tomato ketchup bottles are not taking them anymore as they have been replaced with plastic ones, he also said.

There are 164 DWCCs in Bangalore which come under the BBMP. This waste is segregated into recyclable and non-recyclable, non-biodegradable garbage. These recyclable, non-biodegradable wastes are sent to dry waste collection centres and material recovery facilities for sorting and baling of dry waste. And from there, it is further sent to authorized recycling units to be turned into raw materials for the manufacture of new products.

Krishna thumped on the windscreen glass of an auto tripper and said this glass did not get recycled because it had a layer of plastic on the inside. There was no solution to this thing, he exclaimed! People throw this on the streets and no one collects it because it has a very low resale value.

The resale value of a glass bottle depends on its colour and weight. In Bangalore, there is a factory of a popular beverage company. They take back all the beer bottles of the brand and reused them. The rate for a big glass bottle of the brand is Rs 1 per kg and 50 paise for small ones. In his DWCC he did not separate big and small bottles still nobody wants to work with them because this work requires putting in a lot of hard work and labour but the returns are very low.   

Ragpickers of Jolly Mohalla  

Other rag pickers who are working for small-scale scrap dealers in Jolly Mohalla, which is an aggregator and also a recycling depot in Bangalore, said, “We have been working here for the past 20 to 30 years, and have seen sudden and huge changes in the glass waste markets.” They said that over time, ragpickers in Jolly Mohalla have decreased. There are only two to three dealers in glass waste because of lower profit. 

The main reason for the low rate of glass waste is: 

Plastic has replaced most of the glass items now. This is because glass bottles are risky to transport from one place to another. And during transportation, there is a chance of breaking. Another reason is that earlier juice, milk, and other drinks used to come in glass packaging, but they have also been replaced by Tetra Pak.  

Krishna said plastic waste has a lot of profit compared to glass waste. The reason for profit given by him was that the rate of plastic waste and any other waste like cardboard waste or paper is much higher than glass waste. Hence, most of the rag pickers or waste collectors are not even collecting glass waste anymore. He went down the memory lane of his childhood. He said in the past, there was a huge demand for glass marbles, which were made from glass waste, and children used to play with them, but now they have been replaced by video games.

What do bars do with beer bottles?  

Brew Meister Craft Beer and kitchen, manager, Amit said that “we dumped it off in the basements and BBMP guys come and collect them and some of our guests come who do paintings on the bottles take them sometimes.”

He said only the CL9 beer bottles are sold by the breweries and bars to the scrap and waste dealers. Other bottles are dumped off and the BBMP guys come and what they do with them, he does not know.

The Times of India article says that CL9 is a license given to bars and restaurants. There are several types of licenses, like CL2, which is for wine stores. In Bangalore, there are 3600 wine stores and 3200 bars. The CL9 license comes to the local bar too high-tech. It is not a brewery but a hard liquor and beers. Therefore, beer bottles come with money and no other liquor bottles. 

The need for glass waste recycling 

Glass is not biodegradable. However, when it is thrown into a landfill, it can remain there for generations without degrading. This process of dumping glass waste into landfills will lead to a reduction in landfill space. 

All of the garbage produced by people, both industrial and residential, is disposed of in landfills. Environmentalists believe that the world’s landfill space will soon be depleted. The negative impacts that landfills are currently having on the ecosystem are serious. They damage the land and water, as well as release CO2, which is one of the most significant greenhouse gases produced by human activities. 

On average, the process of making new glass products from recycled glass saves 20 to 40 per cent of energy. Recycling one bottle, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, is equivalent to the energy needed to keep a 110-watt light illuminated for four hours.   

The process of recycling glass waste from collection to reproducing a new product.

A science journal study stated that 19 billion pounds of garbage reach the seas each year. Scientists say plastic, glass, and other types of waste have been deposited on the ocean floor. These things have the potential to disrupt marine ecology. Better managing the trash may help to safeguard the ocean floors. Because glass is a completely recyclable material. 

What is happening to the glass recycling industry? 

Due to high rates of land, there is no recycling unit in Bangalore. However, there is a smaller number of people who are willing to give up this profession of waste picking. Shyam trading enterprise, owner Nazeer, said Karnataka used to have five glass-making factories 10 years back. But now there is no glass-making factory. They send crushed glass to these factories situated in Hyderabad and Nagpur, where they make new glass from it. 

The reason he pointed out, is that Bangalore does not have any glass-making factories. Building any factory requires a minimum of 10 acres of land. The price of one acre of land here in Bangalore is approximately Rs. 3 crores to Rs. 4 crores. However, ten years back, the cost of one acre of land used to be Rs. 10 lakhs.  

In a report by Machine Maker on the economics of glass packaging and why India needs to mature in its recycling behaviour, Rajesh Khosla, CEO and President of AGI Glass Pac, said that in India only 35 percent of glass gets recycled every year compared to other nations like Europe, where 80 per cent of glass gets recycled every year. 

Khosla also told the machine maker that India’s cullet percentage is extremely low due to the country’s poor recycling habits. He mentioned that 300 kg of cullet and 700 kg of sand are necessary to manufacture one tonne of glass. If cullet is utilized more frequently, these values will be flipped, making the goods far more affordable and feasible. 

Electronic glass waste recycling 

Bangalore is popularly known as the tech hub in the country. About 70 per cent of the e-waste in Karnataka comes from Bangalore. It also consists of electronic glass waste, which has been creating several environmental hazards because it contains toxic components such as mercury, lead, barium, lithium, etc., which imposes negative health effects on our bodies. 

Sahaas zero waste management, project coordinator Raju, explained the procedure for electronic glass waste recycling. He said first the glass will be dismantled from the electronic items, then they will send this to glass recyclers like Saint Gobin Limited in Chennai. Over there, the next step is to crush the glass into small particles called cullets. In a furnace, along with other raw materials, the cullets are melted and then molded into Moulds to create new bottles of various colors and sizes. This method is used to create new recycled bottles and jars. 

The solution to the problems 

The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (‘Vidhi’) is an independent think tank that conducts legal research to enhance laws and governance for the benefit of the public. The report on waste picker’s welfare law in Karnataka emphasizes the need for the state to enact a Waste Picker Welfare Law that recognizes waste picking as a legitimate job and provides waste pickers with the same rights as everyone else in India who works in a recognized field.  

Recycling saves money by reducing energy use. Cullet melts at a lower temperature than glass made from raw ingredients for the first time. Therefore, the amount of energy required to melt the glass will also be reduced. Glass that has been recycled decreases air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by 50 percent Glass recycling saves landfill space that would otherwise be occupied by used bottles and jars. 

To provide relief to these ragpickers who are struggling to maintain their livelihood proficient glass recycling units should be set up.

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