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Mumbai (India)

The great business of recycling

The percentage of waste recovered here is in fact higher than that of the most advanced countries in the world: 80% of the plastic consumed and thrown away by the more than 20 million inhabitants of Mumbai reaches Dharavi to be recovered. These data are incredible especially when compared with the numbers of other countries, such as 39% of Great Britain, 36% of Ireland and 37% of Italy. In Europe, only Austria and Germany are close to 50%.

In Dharavi the endless tons of waste produced by the great metropolis of Mumbai, but also by other cities of the state, find new life. Hundreds of thousands of “agents” are involved in recovering recyclable products such as aluminum, paper, glass but above all plastic from waste. These tireless workers commute from the landfills to the slum tens, hundreds, thousands of times over the course of each year, transporting with trucks, carts, animals, bicycle rickshaws or directly on their backs huge bags containing the precious waste of a more wealthy society, so much that can buy them again and again.

A controller is always present in every room, seated higher up to better observe the work of women, often from villages or city outskirts. Everyone work 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week, for around 1000 rupees a month, just over 13 euros. Slum rent costs at least 1500 rupees a month, so none of them can afford it. So they sleep here, where they work, for an average of ten months a year.

The most common plastic, that of mixed colors, is the least valuable and is paid around 30-40 rupees per kilo. But the real business is the pure, one-color material, which can also be sold for 80 rupees. But above all the real deal is the pure white plastic, which has to be cleaned by with centrifuges. Many run into long debts to buy these machines, because they understand that investing in technology is worthwhile. This plastic, which we call white gold here, is paid up to 120 rupees per kilogram.

You can find the full version of this report on:
OASIS – Environmental culture magazine – n. 218
People at work – volume published by White Star – National Geographic
Screening – “People at work” meeting
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