Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Ragpickers

The charity group IFA has given me the task of keeping in contact with Pramod Kumar, who is helping the ragpickers. I am supposed to talk to him every month, to encourage him to keep on going and to get an idea of how he is working. First I took the Metro to a place very far from the center of the city. There Pramod came to the Metro station and gave me a ride on his motorbike. After about half a mile, we drove next to this open canal. It was stinking so much, like someone poking needles in your nose. The bank of the stinking canal was littered with garbage. It went on for about three miles. By now I could not smell anything! We arrived at their slum. It was pretty far from the canal. It almost smelled good. I think the smell is a matter of relativity. Their slums were not smelling as bad as the canal.

These people are from Bihar just like the Rickshawallas. There have no marketable skills. They go thru the garbage and pick out anything that can be sold to recycle companies. They pick rags, plastic bottles, plastic bags, styrofoam pieces, human hair, metals and even discarded wrappers. They bundle everything and sell their finds to people who process these things. In the photo above you see their living place. They work and live in the same place.

They even pick women's hair from discarded household waste and sell it. The photo on the right shows piles of hair they have painstakingly separated from the other waste. I was told that human hair is very good for business since they sell it for good money. (Note to Kristina: Next time you use your comb and get some hair, save it, we will give it to them for recycling!)

These rags were just brought in. They will be separated by color and fabric and will be rebundled and sold. There was another room where they burn styrofoam waste. It produces a horrendous toxic smoke. The styrofoam then turns into black gooey stuff which they also sell. They collect polythene and other used bags and burn them for heat in the winter.
They use the same, all year round to cook on. I gave them a long talk about the dangers of burning polythene. Pramod Kumar knew it was detrimental to the environment but he was taken aback by my description of it. I said that burning polythene produces dioxin and that one drop of dioxin on your skin for one minute can kill you! It is kind of true. Dioxin is the name for a group of chemicals. Burning polythene does produce dioxin. The nerve gas, US Army has, is a kind of Dioxin and one drop of it on your skin will kill you in one minute. You do not even have to inhale or ingest it! Anyway Pramod is going to talk to some people in Delhi government to see if they can find some place to dispose of the plastic bags and find some alternative fuel for the ragpickers to cook on.


  1. Wow...is all I can say. Puts recycling in a whole new catagory.

  2. "We pass by the streets every single day but we fail to notice a lot of things - one of them being the plight of many underpriviledged and deprived children who roam about in tatters, malnourished. Some of the child ragpickers go to school and work the other part of the day or during holidays. Some girls are found working as ragpickers in the morning, sometimes attending school in the afternoon and coming back home in the evening to help their mother with the household chores
    or to care for their younger siblings. The plight of these kids moved me to work for their bright future and thus I happened to join: http://www.jaagore.com/project/teachers-rag-picker-project. Here, one can teach the rag pickers and thus allow them to be enabled towards a bright and hopeful future. The children thus won't be deprived of a good life and can be given a right to dream. "

  3. A very good fuel available in delhi and other cities to burn is the coconut waste. The green coconut is used only for its water. But it still has lot of oil in this. On maturity of coconut, this oil becomes the coconut oil. In the green coconut, however, this oil is not easily recoverable, but it burns very well and has good calorific value. In south India, they dry these shells, sometimes make pellets out of them and burn them for cooking. I have seen these coconut shells being thrown away in most cities in Northern India