Visiting Mundka, Delhi’s Plastic Recycling Center

P1010025Delhi We climbed onto the first Delhi Metro train at Nehru Place and after three more train transfers on this fairly amazing and new subway system, we had reached the very end of the line in Mundka in the Delhi suburbs.  I wanted to see what Kaveri Gill in Of Poverty and Plastic had called perhaps the world’s largest plastic recycling hub, and certainly the center of this huge industry in Delhi, one of the world’s largest cities in a country where 70 to 80% of what can be recycled is recycled (compared to 7% in the USA for example!).  I had first been tipped off to this book while meeting with Delhi-based author and former USA community and labor organizer (and current Social Policy contributor), Mridula Koshy, on my last visit to the city, and the book had proven invaluable in helping me understand the economics and markets where our waste pickers were critical field troops.

Leaving the Metro, we then walked several kilometers along the bustling highway until turning left into another world.  Kilometer after kilometer, cheek to jowl, behind every wall, lean-to, and scrap of fencing were acres and acres of plastic recycling sorting areas, piled high in all varieties and bundled nearly to the sky.  Workers swarmed among the mess, sorting items, stacking with the claw hooks associated in another time with dock hands, and piling all of these items onto carts, bicycles, and trucks.  Here there would be a 30 foot high stack of plastic car fenders, there would be a small mountain of old plastic sandals or shoe soles, and everywhere plastic bags, electronic items, TV set covers, and the like.  Take all of this and multiply for miles!  It was breathtaking in every way.  Workers pointed out to us the slums not far away where 4000 wastepickers lived nearby who worked in the sorting and stacking.

P1010024For 90 minutes we never stopped walking in a giant circle that took us from several kilometers from the end of the Mundka line back  and around to the previous subway stop, and as much as we had seen, we hardly touched the surface of this huge plastic recycling hub.  This was not an area where brokers sad with old scales, but where there were regular scales which weighed entire truck loads of plastic goods as they came in and out.  The plastics would only be interrupted by street vendors serving lunch on the sidewalks to the workers or shopkeepers nestled between plastic yards selling their wares.

We were oddities.  Taking pictures here and there and talking to workers and brokers seemed strange to them.  ThisP1010017 was a separate world and we were visitors from the other planet where the goods began their route.  All of what we saw though was simple a stage of the process.  Once assembled and sorted here, then sold and stacked, these trucks were headed to the plants that would reprocess the plastics into new products.  We didn’t go there this trip, but we were confident that wherever the plastic was heading, it would be back here again some day.

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Pink Underwear Campaign

chaddis pink underwear campaign
chaddis pink underwear campaign

Delhi       The fabrication of the Commonwealth Games continued. The headlines trumpeted six more gold medals and the 2nd place standing of India, while the stories continued to be nothing but mishap and misfortune due to poor organizing and faulty equipment, and literally no crowds at all. An automatic set of tire puncturing teeth didn’t read the electronic sticker and came up hurting 3 Ugandan dignitaries seriously. The courtesy driver fiasco continued for Tata Motors with the new spin being the fact they only got the contract signed in July, so it’s someone else’s fault of course. Wild speculation on why so few people are attending the games including the Times of India wondering if Delhi elites were so used to getting free passes that they were unwilling to pay to go to the game. Solution: the Delhi Municipal Corporation asked the Organizing Committee for free passes for school children and others to be able to fill the stands. What isn’t mirage continues to feel like farce here.

As a break from the Commonwealth Games Campaign (go to www.commonwealthgamescampaign.org to support the work), I spent a delightful couple of hours visiting with Mridula Koshy, a former SEIU and IAF organizer largely in the Portland, Oregon area who is now a well read author of short fiction and a coming novel living with her family in Delhi. I’ve told the story before in several places of stumbling onto her book of short stories while killing time in the domestic airport in Delhi before flying to Mumbai on my last visit. We’re publishing two of her stories in the coming two issues of Social Policy, which I’m quite excited about doing.

Mridula gave me the opportunity of not just talking about blanks in my understanding of India and organizing here, but also allowing me to test some of my suppositions and theories with someone with whom I shared a common language of organizing. Coming from her IAF experience with the redoubtable Dick Harmon, she made many suggestions about whether or not ACORN India could find “mediating institutions” that might help. Colleges and universities were one of our brainstorms and it resonated with our work in Mumbai and our organizers’ own histories of activism in Delhi, so that suggestion is high on the list of things to discuss with the staff in our next meetings. She also hit home with me by filling in a couple of Bollywood blanks particularly the social change focus on one of the more well know directors who has appeared in our YouTube blurbs to support the “Waste” documentary on our organizing in Dharavi and the ACORN India Trust and noting the way he was focusing on the college and university market for change as well.

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