India’s financial capital, Mumbai, generates 11,000 tonnes of waste daily. In the absence of a proper waste segregation and recycling system, the city’s only saving grace are thousands of unauthorized recyclers, who run their operations in Mumbai’s infamous Dharavi slums.
Dharavi, the biggest slum of Asia, is an eyesore to the neat and continually rising skyline of Mumbai. A labyrinth of thousands of small workshops and homes, Dharavi is located right in the heart of the maximum city, making it one of the most expensive pieces of land in India, housing the poorest of the poor. It is hard to believe that this mesh of shanties and narrow lanes, littered with garbage and flooded with sewage water, is what prevents the financial capital of India from choking in its own waste.
Spread across 520 acres of land, Dharavi is the center of recycling of thousands of tonnes of waste that Mumbai generates every day. More than 5,000 single-room recycling units work relentlessly to skim through unsegregated and monumental quantities of waste to cull out metals, plastic, paper, and glass.
Laxmi Kamble, a single mother and a third-generation Dharavi resident said that recycling has been a business in the slum since independence.
Making of Dharavi
Dharavi came into existence in 1882 during the British colonial rule in India. An outbreak of bubonic plague in Mumbai prompted the British government to transfer some of the polluting industries to a piece of land that later came to be known as Dharavi. With the advent of mechanized technology, labor-intensive industries died out and Dharavi became the abode of migrant-waves that swarm the city every month.
Recycling eventually emerged as a profitable business. Director of Acorn Foundation (India), Vinod Shetty, said that it is hard to make profits for organized recycling businesses in India due to the lack of a system to segregate waste at the source and keep it segregated during the transit. Garbage trucks managed by Brihanmumbai Municipal Commission do not have provisions to carry segregated waste which is simply toppled inside the trucks and dumped in landfills on the outskirts of the city.
India’s largest and the oldest dumping ground, Deonar, is located in the eastern suburb of Mumbai. Deonar landfill occupies an area big enough to encapsulate more than 240 football fields. Set up in 1927, Deonar landfill now has mounds of trash that have attained a height equivalent to a nine-story building. In 2016, a fire broke out at the landfill. The dump continued to be on fire for four days, forcing 70 schools to dismiss classes.
A high disposable income and lack of awareness and concern for the environment among urban masses has led to a 105 percent rise in waste generation in Mumbai between 1999 and 2016. Recycling units in Dharavi play a huge role in intercepting recyclable items from getting dumped into a landfill and adding to Mumbai’s mounting waste crisis.
Supply Chain of Recycling
Through the decades, these unorganized recyclers have developed an organized and robust supply and demand network that contributes to Dharavi’s total annual turnover of US$1 billion. The smallest unit of this supply chain are ragpickers who skim through trash bins and landfills to pick out recyclable articles. A typical day for Balu, a ragpicker, starts with a glass of strong black tea and a snack. For the next 12 hours, he will be meticulously fishing out recyclable items from public trash bins. “You won’t believe the kind of things that I find in the garbage. Once I found a fully functional foot massager,” he said. On other days Balu makes less than $3 a day, which barely covers his food expense.
Sorting recyclable items from dumps exposes ragpickers such as Balu to a variety of health hazards. At 17, Balu complains of shortness of breath, but he cannot afford to consult a doctor or buy medicine. “It is a skill that you acquire at the cost of your health. Once I opened a bottle of liquid and spilled some of it on my hand. I think it was acid as it burnt the skin on my hand,” he said while showing a patch of burnt skin on his hand. “I don’t have a choice, rag-picking is the only way I can make a living.”
Recyclers also source material from Kabadiwalas. For decades, Indians have been selling recyclable household waste to these door-to-door collectors. The Kabadiwalas make rounds of residential areas while pushing their hand wagons, announcing their presence. People call them to their homes to sell paper, plastic, glass, and electronics. Many haggle to get the best price out of a kabadiwala for their discarded items. The kabadiwalas sell their purchase to recyclers in Dharavi for a paltry profit of 5 to 10 percent. The most organized of all these suppliers are scrap agents who buy large quantities of reusable waste auctioned by companies and then sell it for a profit.
Hours of Labor
Shirish Jani, a second-generation entrepreneur, is very proud of his family business which was started by his father in 1962. His 250 square feet recycling unit is packed to the rafters with cardboard, paper, and plastic barrels.
“We often buy plastic and cardboard through a scrap agent who has ties with the pharma and chemical companies. The purchased scrap is then transported to our recycling unit in Dharavi. After washing and processing we generate a profit of 10 percent,” said Jani.
Repackaging units with a small demand serve as clients for recyclers such as Jani.
Dharavi’s thirteen compounds have mounds of segregated colored plastic. Segregated plastic is ground and the granules are sold to packaging companies. However, the process of dismantling and sorting needs hours of labor.
Shadab Chaudhary left behind his wife and two daughters in his village in North India to come to Mumbai for work. The lack of blue-collar jobs in rural areas stimulates waves of labor migration to Mumbai. Shadab works 12 hours every day and sleeps on the pavement to save enough money to send home. “I get paid Rs.10,000 ($144) a month, this is the best you can get here,” he said.
Metal extraction from e-waste to the refurbishing of second-hand home appliances, there is nothing that cannot be used or reused in Dharavi. At 18, Sandeep Soni is the proud owner of a second-hand home appliance shop that supports his family of six. A customer can buy a functioning washing machine at one-third of its original price from his shop. “We even give a guarantee of three months,” he said. On days with slow business, his staff consisting of three teenage boys sit in the dark backroom to extract copper from discarded electronics which fetches him about $5 per kilogram.
E-waste recycling in Dharavi is not as popular as plastic, paper, and glass, owing to the hazardous nature of the extraction techniques. The metal extractors at Dharavi employ two to three workers at a time to extract profitable quantity of metals. Workers sit in an assembly line fashion with each taking a different set of responsibility during the extraction process. Javed* has been making his living through metal extraction from discarded e-waste for over a decade now. “I extract metals after taking apart electronics. There is a huge market for metal extraction from PCBs but I lack knowledge and equipment,” he said.
In 2016, the Government of India introduced Extended Producer Responsibility to ensure that the industries associated with plastic and electronics take the onus of recycling end-of-cycle products by establishing collection systems. Since 2016, the Central Pollution Control Board has been cracked down on some of the major electronics companies in India for not complying with the norms. According to the same set of rules, the dismantling of e-waste is only allowed to be done by authorized recyclers in workshops equipped to carry out the processes with compliance to the central government’s 2016 guidelines for e-waste management.
For Dharavi’s e-waste recyclers such as Javed, it is impossible to execute environmentally safe dismantling of e-waste, and there is no way for him to acquire an authorization to conduct his business legally.
“We have a hand-to-mouth existence. We have neither time nor capital to invest in compliance. My business may not be legal but it is essential. E-waste recyclers in an unorganized sector not just earn a living through recycling, but also process tonnes of e-waste, which is beyond the capacity and means of recyclers in the organized sector,” he said.
Acorn Foundation (India) Director Shetty works closely with recyclers in Dharavi to provide them with legal advice and solicit licenses and permits on their behalf. He calls the situation of Dharavi recyclers an epitome of Catch-22. “Excluding the unorganized sector from the recycling ecosystem is a mistake. Organized recycling units do not have the benefit of cheap migrant labor and a seamless supply network,” he said. “Only people who are destitute and desperate for work will put such hard labor to make a meager living.”
For Shadab and Javed, the pros and cons of their profession hold little importance. “I don’t understand legalities associated with my business. I try my best to keep my workers safe and only extract metals that can be easily extracted,” said Javed.
For Shadab, the illegal status of his workplace makes no difference. “What would you choose between supporting your family now and developing a new set of skills in an attempt to find some other kind of legal job,” Shadab said.
Environmentalists, organized recyclers, electronics, and plastic product manufacturers and the government are yet to devise a sturdy waste management system in India. Meanwhile, thousands of recyclers and labors in Dharavi continue to process the waste generated by the millions of inhabitants of Mumbai.
*Name of the metal extractor Javed has been changed to protect his identity.
This article won The Globe Post’s 2019 writing contest.
Dates: September 8th through 13th (Sunday through Friday)
Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island country below the Indian subcontinent located in the Indian Ocean.
|• 2018 estimate||21,670,000 (57th)|
|• 2012 census||20,277,597 (57th)|
|• Density||327/km2 (846.9/sq mi) (43rd)|
|GDP (PPP)||2018 estimate|
|• Total||$292.793 billion (61st)|
|• Per capita||$13,500 (91st)|
|GDP (nominal)||2018 estimate|
|• Total||$92.504 billion (66th)|
|• Per capita||$4,265 (109th)|
Quoting from Wikipedia: Sri Lanka…
officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal and to the southeast of the Arabian Sea. The island is historically and culturally intertwined with the Indian subcontinent, but is geographically separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. The legislative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is a suburb of the commercial capital and largest city, Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s documented history spans 3,000 years, with evidence of pre-historic human settlements dating back to at least 125,000 years. It has a rich cultural heritage and the first known Buddhist writings of Sri Lanka, the Pāli Canon, date back to the Fourth Buddhist council in 29 BC. Its geographic location and deep harbors made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to the modern Maritime Silk Road.
The current constitution stipulates the political system as a republic and a unitary state governed by a semi-presidential system. It has had a long history of international engagement, as a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the G77, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Along with the Maldives, Sri Lanka is one of only two South Asian countries rated “high” on the Human Development Index (HDI), with its HDI rating and per capita income the highest among South Asian nations. The Sri Lankan constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place”, although it does not identify it as a state religion. Buddhism is given special privileges in the Sri Lankan constitution.
The island is home to many cultures, languages and ethnicities. The majority of the population is from the Sinhalese ethnicity, while a large minority of Tamils have also played an influential role in the island’s history. Moors, Burghers, Malays, Chinese, and the indigenous Vedda are also established groups on the island.
The various ethnic groups united to end British colonial rule, but the British legacy insisted on communal representation that eventually pitted the majority Sinhalese against the minority (over 800,000) Tamil leading to civil war in 1983 over a number of issues involving language and jobs, including provisions that made the Tamil virtually stateless and unable to obtain citizenship in the emerging nation. The Tamil Tigers was a well-known guerilla effort classified as terrorist by many nations. Attempts at peace broke down a number of times until after more than twenty-five years with the help of the Indian army a military victory was achieved over the Tamil in 2009.
More recently, Sri Lanka was in the news over a constitutional crisis involving the president, prime minister, and parliament in the fall of 2018. A popular prime minister accused of corruption was ousted by a political coalition that elected the president who after several years in office suddenly returned the former prime minister to that job triggering mayhem. Eventually, he was force to resign in the stalemate between the president of the parliament.
The Organizers’ Forum is interested in meeting with a number of groups in order to evaluate the progress of the country a decade after its civil war as it tries to resolve the historic issues that have divided its people and undercut its institutions. A delegation from the Organizers’ Forum had undertaken a similar mission a decade after the end of apartheid in South Africa in order to understand how deeply change had become embedded and shaped the country’s future. Similarly, the Organizers Forum delegation in Indonesia was able to view the impacts of ethnic strife in that country that had experienced state terror during the Cold War and how it had adapted in unique ways.
In this time when the issue of climate change has global importance, the Organizers’ Forum is also hoping to learn more about how an island nation like Sri Lanka is making plans to deal with the potential impact of rising seas. Some members of the delegation have discussed a side trip to the Maldives in order to see that country “while it’s still there,” since many scientists also project that by the end of the century it could be underwater.
Long thought of as an exotic country, Sri Lanka is now at the crossroads of a different kind of future, and the Organizers Forum delegation is seeking to better understand what we have to learn – and to offer – at this critical juncture.
The Organizers’ Forum is a project of the Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center. Interested parties need to contact email@example.com in order to reserve a place. The Forum covers housing, most meals, and in-country transportation and events, while members of the delegation and their organizations cover transportation to and from Sri Lanka and cover a modest program fee that allows from planning and logistics to make this trip happen. Please contact us at your earliest convenience and certainly not later than August 1st. As always, the earlier plane reservations are made, the cheaper for the delegates.
A visa is required to North American, UK, and European visitors that costs about $30 USD and is available electronically within three working days or at the airport, but best advice is getting it earlier.
This will be a great trip!
Le texte français suit l’anglais
Thibaut, the organizer from Brussels is in his final month of training in New Orleans. In February, I will be traveling to visit our other trainees in Albania and Bulgaria, as well as spending three days in Frankfurt assisting the development of a potential ACORN-affiliated tenants’ union there. Along with UK ACORN’s Nick Ballard, I am also visiting Dublin to advance the prospects of a potential affiliation in Ireland.
News in the United States is encouraging. The new year brings an organizer with ACORN and the Home Savers Campaign in Detroit. This month, we are also starting a six-month training and consulting contract with Amani United, a community organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Dominican Center, potentially also an ACORN affiliate. Campaigns: Lessons from the Field was published in December and is now being distributed. “The Organizer” is scheduled for a week of showings at the Zeitgeist Theater in New Orleans in January and at a theater in Harlem in March, with more dates on an East Coast swing at the same time. Finally, initial steps are being taken to develop internet and terrestrial radio stations in Uganda in January. Watch this space…
Mark your calendars! The international staff and leaders meeting date is set for Friday, July 19th and Saturday, July 20th in Lyon, France. See ACORN International’s full 2019 calendar here.
See some more highlights below.
ACORN Around the World
UK ACORN members double down on housing campaigns
ACORN members have been organizing for affordable, livable housing across the UK. Brighton members carried out several actions as part of an ongoing campaign against a slum landlord, as did Birmingham members. Bristol members focused on their affordable housing campaign, turning out large numbers to a carol-singing demonstration, campaign and member defence meetings. In Newcastle, members have been building a new local group covering three tower blocks. Sheffield members held their Quarterly General meeting, elected officers and held several door-knocking sessions. Manchester ACORN organized a training session for members with ACORN’s National Organiser, as well as phone banking and door knocking sessions and a Christmas social and meeting.
Exciting meetings for Kenya ACORN!
Kenya ACORN recently hosted the ACORN International’s Chief Organizer, Wade Rathke. Wade shared a lot of information to benefit Kenya ACORN’s organizing work! We also visited the only local radio station in Korogocho (KOCH FM) to discuss a potential partnership with the officials of the station.
Fighting for child care in Delhi
As a part of the broader network of Delhi-based organizations working on issues affecting kids aged 0-6 years, Delhi ACORN launched a campaign demanding a creche in the local community. Meetings were organized in Lalita Park, Mandawali and Shashi Garden. Later, district level larger meetings will be organized collectively to set the demand of creche on the agenda of political parties. The general election is scheduled for March/April 2019.
Czech ACORN finds important artwork during demolition
During the demolition of a villa on the outskirts of Prague, workers from the ACORN Czech Republic movement found a collection of paintings from Jewish painter Gertruda Kauders, who died in a concentration camp during WWII. The paintings had been kept between the walls, so that the Nazis could not destroy them during the war. The discovery is not only important for the Czech Jewish community, but is also a major breakthrough in Central European art history. As a result, the Jewish community is organizing a joint exhibition with ACORN Czech Republic! News reports here and here.
Victory! Access to free drinking water in Douala
Douala 5e residents will finally have better access to drinking water as a result of the actions of OnEstEnsemble members to force Town Hall to repair defective boreholes. Actions taken include a petition signed by 200 people, a neighborhood walk from one water point to another, and a children’s theater stage at one of the defective boreholes. After a number of delays, work finally began in December, thanks to the perseverance of OnEstEnsemble members. Residents will quickly have access to free drinking water.
Experimental organizing for ACORN Italy!
ACORN Italy has been busy co-staging a community organizing course in Rome together with Community Organizing ONLUS, an Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate, marking the perhaps first time ever that the ACORN and IAF methods and visions have been blended into one, trying to take the best out of the two and make it one common experimental path. So far, the response has been fantastic and for ACORN Italy this represents a thrilling opportunity to do what ACORN International rightfully pushed them to do for a long time: real community organizing in Italy, and Vatican State too, since the course takes place on an urban farm next door to St. Peter’s!
Honduras ACORN board meets
The board of Honduras ACORN recently had their first meeting since formally registering.
Toronto ACORN delivers the gift of affordable housing to mayor
More than 40 Toronto ACORN members and 5 supportive city councillors turned out to City Hall to deliver holiday gifts during the mayor’s swearing-in ceremony. Members were eager to remind the mayor to keep his promise of making housing a #1 priority this term! They rallied outside City Hall before entering to deliver their house-shaped gifts under the mayor’s tree.
Hamilton ACORN’s housing platform packs a punch at City Hall
Hamilton ACORN released their Housing Platform at City Hall recently. The platform and accompanying report detail what the City of Hamilton needs to do to ensure affordable housing is preserved, and that tenants are ensured health and safety standards in their apartments. The platform urges the City to create an anti-renoviction and displacement strategy, a city-wide registration program for landlords and calls for a complete overhaul of the city’s property standards bylaws.
Ottawa ACORN members celebrate a successful year!
Members and allies enjoyed good food, TONS of prizes fundraised by some rockstar leaders and received awards at Ottawa ACORN’s People Power party. The highlight of the night was when member MCs gave out blooper awards to targets! 2018 was a year with lots to celebrate. Members made huge gains on campaigns like internet for all, inclusionary zoning, landlord licensing and payday lending and we’re expecting in 2019 to be bigger and stronger!
Victory! Members of the Alliance Citoyenne elected to the board of social housing authorities
Members had 3 victories in Grenoble and Aubervilliers. In the Grenoble Habitat, where have been campaigning since last April, tenants supported the Alliance and elected Fatiha Belhachemi. In another Grenoble housing authority, Marie Rodriguez (aka Xena) was elected in 2nd place. In Aubervilliers, Paris, Fatouma Camara was also elected. The first election campaign of the Alliance Citoyenne was a success, proving the strength ACORN’s organizing approach. After many direct actions to demand the renovation of apartments and the improvement of the public service, this victory marks a new stage.
ACORN Radio: The Video of the People!
Listen in to ACORN Radio to hear tales of organizing, member stories, local updates, and more!