Tag Archives: trash for cash

A Dirty Business: Recycling Other People’s Waste

Across India, from poor villages to expensive residential areas of cities, millions of trash pickers are at work to collect what other people dispose. They are called raddiwalas, ragpickers, scavengers and waste managers. Some go door-to-door, others gather iron rebar and used bricks on construction sites, still others clean parks and city streets. There are even specialists who gather hair, which is exported in bulk for wigs.  They’re the starting point of a multilayered, $25 billion industry in India that advances through increasingly specialized middlemen and industrialists to eventually turn garbage into new objects. The work is a moneymaker for conglomerates as well as a route out of poverty for some of India’s poorest people.

All of that has been upended by a crash in a global garbage market dominated by two players: China, which buys most of the world’s garbage, and the U.S., which sells the most. Last year, China dramatically cut the amount of garbage it buys. The reduced demand from China and continued supply from the U.S. flooded the world trash market and drove down the price of garbage everywhere….Indian recycling companies took advantage of the deep discounts and started importing more trash from the U.S. and elsewhere. In 2018, the imports of mixed scrap plastic to India rose 33%.  The jump in supply pushed prices down for the low-end Indian workers who pick through mountains of locally produced trash for raw materials to sell.

That’s impacting an Indian trash economy powerful enough to have prompted its own migration pattern: thousands of families left their rural villages to collect garbage in cities. Now, with their garbage hauls worth less, many are returning home.  For the pickers, the going price for a kilo, or 2.2 pounds, of plastic water bottles, which used to bring around 45 rupees—roughly 65 cents—is now worth only about 25 rupees—or 36 cents.The trash glut also lowered profits for industrial recycling companies who turn the trash into usable materials. Plastic pellets, the end-product after processing some plastic scrap, went from 80 rupees to 45 rupees a kilo.

China  ratcheted up restrictions on imports of recyclable materials to force its recycling industry to absorb more of the waste generated within the country. China also is nudging the country away from the role of accepting others’ garbage, which is viewed as a dirty industryThe global trash glut means India’s own trash is worth less to its domestic recyclers.

Excerpts from By Eric Bellman and  Vibhuti Agarwal, ‘We Are Swamped’: How a Global Trash Glut Hurt a $25 Billion Industry, July 28, 2019

3000 Trash Banks: Indonesia

Customers, in a poor corner of eastern Indonesia, borrow cash — and pay back trash.
“The program originated from the people, it is managed by the people, and the rewards are for the people,” said bank manager Suryana, who wears a black jilbab headscarf and lives with her family above the Mutiara Trash Bank in the fast-growing city of Makassar on the island of Sulawesi. “From an economic point of view, this gets results.”… Not just neighborhoods in Indonesia, but elsewhere across emerging Asia and Africa, locales are embracing “trash banking” as a way of reducing pressure on ever-growing landfill sites and allowing some of their poorest citizens access to savings and credit.
The scale of the problem facing Makassar and other Asian cities is clear from a trip to the landfill on the edge of town. Each day the city of 2.5 million people produces 800 tons of rubbish, most of which ends up at the five-story high tip, which sprawls over the area the size of two soccer pitches. Scavengers, many of them children, work alongside cows foraging for food.

Against this backdrop, trash banking is taking off. Residents bring recyclable trash such as plastic bottles, paper and packaging to the collection points, known as banks, where the rubbish is weighed and given a monetary value. Like a regular bank, customers are able to open accounts, make deposits — of trash, converted to its rupiah value — and periodically withdraw funds.

The city government commits to purchasing the rubbish at set prices displayed at the bank, ensuring price stability for those bringing trash in. It then sells it on to waste merchants who ship it to plastic and paper mills on the main island of Java….The city administration sends trucks to collect the waste from the Mutiara Trash Bank several times a week and brings it to a Central Trash Bank, where it is sorted for sale…

Indonesia produces 64 million tons of trash a year, of which 70 percent is dumped in open …Indonesia as a whole last year had 2,800 trash banks operating in 129 cities, with 175,000 account holders, according to the environment ministry….[IO]ther similar practices are carried out in African countries including Ghana and South Africa, in India’s cities of Pune and Bengaluru, and in Manila, Bogota and Brazil.

Excerpts from This Asian Bank Lets You Borrow Cash and Pay in Trash, Bloomberg News
May 15, 2016