Where dry waste goes
India's recycling system is built on its informal workers. They have created collection channels that run like a well-oiled machine. These secondary markets for commodities extract value from all kinds of goods.
Cities across India have large commodity markets for where Traders buy and sell dry waste. These are dense neighborhoods where clustered shops focus on a specific category of materials, such as bottle caps, newspapers, or jute bags.
For constant supply, Traders have long-standing relationships with waste workers across their city. They offer credit to their suppliers and only have to make a quick call to fill incoming orders for materials.
Jolly Mohalla in Bangalore is such a market. It is bustling with workers handling mountains of sacks of materials. They all have a rhythm and an eye for detail, which helps them sort, pack, load and carry all the things we throw away.
Many trading businesses are family-run and have been here for at least 50 years. Competition is fierce and entry is difficult for new players. As the market grows, children diversify to open parallel businesses.
In industrial areas, laborers clean, sort, and wash materials purchased from Traders. Items such as plastic are broken down into flakes and pellets, a standard form used by informal and formal manufacturers to create new products.
These processed materials may be used in the same industrial area for light manufacturing or shipped across the country.
In the Nayandahalli industrial area, 90% of units are said to be owned by proprietors who have close caste and kin relationships. Many migrant workers use jugaad machines in tough conditions.
Sorters in these areas are experts and can differentiate between materials instantly, based on the material's flexibility or thickness. This takes years of training and experience, and a lab would have to tell you the difference between them if these guys were not doing their job!
The processed materials which are chips, granules, blocks are then sent to product manufacturing companies. These can range from rudimentary facilities to very sophisticated plants that covert this raw material into usable products. Some of this processed material is also shipped out of the country to be converted into fleece, fabric, wire, containers, pipes, construction material etc.
This process helps our society by creating jobs and saving resources
Yet, the challenge is to bring greater safety and health to workers without compromising the sector's cost advantage and ability to provide jobs that pay more than minimum wages.
Many informal entrepreneurs need support in order to organize market relationships or longer-distance logistics, which improve the efficiency and scale of collection and processing.