Recycled Lives

(India 2007 - 2008)


The Indian economy is growing at the same rate as that of China. Mumbai, the economic capital of India is a city that is continuously expanding and transforming, but despite this enormous development 70% of the population still lives in the streets or in the slums throughout the city, including the centre.

In the recent “Quality of Life Report”, published by Mercer Human Resource Consulting that analyses the hygienic and sanitary conditions in great cities around the globe, Mumbai ranked the seventh most polluted city in the world. Walking around Mumbai one can clearly see the air, soil and water pollution, and because of the great quantity of rubbish all over the city it is difficult to believe that it only ranked seventh. Mumbai is literally covered in municipal waste, but this waste, which is often only partially collected by the local administration, is a source of income for the unemployed. In India, the recycling of rubbish is mostly an “illegal” business, but it is tolerated by the state because it allows millions of people to survive.

 

In Mumbai there is an area, the 13th Compound, which is specialised in the recycling of urban waste. 0The 13th compound is located in Dharavi, the largest shantytown in the whole of Asia. About 30,000 people, from Dharavi and other slums in the city, work relentlessly, searching for anything that can be recovered from the 6,000 tons of garbage produced daily by the 16 million inhabitants of Mumbai. Plastic, paper, metal, glass: every material that can be reused is collected. Up to 600 tons of plastic are recovered every day, and many more of other materials.

 

The people working in the 13th compound are forced to live in condition of poverty and degradation beyond human endurance and die young because of the numerous diseases they risk contracting due to their work. They dig through the garbage with their bare hands; they go through the gutters and rubbish bins looking for garbage to be sold to earn their survival. This is a paradoxical situation: on the one hand the recycling of materials safeguards the environment through the re-use of resources, on the other hand the chemicals used for recycling, and the high level of pollution, further compromise the lives of the desperate people working there, as well as the environment.

 

These destitute rag-pickers are the first link of a chain of garbage collection, before its sale to wholesalers who separate the materials according to criteria such as quality, colour etc. to then grind it up, melt it down and give it a new life.

The few unscrupulous small entrepreneurs that control the 13th Compound manage to earn from 50 to 350 euros a day, a fortune in India. Thousands of people work for them in inhuman conditions and survive in a desperate state, looking for something in the garbage of the opulent world.