This Essay studies the informal waste management system in india in the context of spontaneous order and a libertarian tradition.

Essay by varna January 2005

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What A Waste!

From Rags to Riches- The Kabari Trade

Solid waste management is supposed to be under the purview of municipal authorities namely the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council) and the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi). Several unaccounted for groups however, are significant contributors to this process. Urban solid waste is typically a mixture of household, construction, commercial, toxic industrial and hospital waste.


On an average, Delhi generates 4000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day, which consists of about 32% compost-able matter. Of this 32%: Image

The unorganised sector of 'kabariwalas' or junk traders form an important spoke in the wheel of solid waste management. Waste-pickers (alias rag pickers, scavengers and the like...) traditionally come from highly vulnerable social backgrounds who have little options other than to live by collecting and selling recyclable materials out of urban solid wastes. The informal sector recycling trade activities namely segregation, collection, sale and purchase of recyclable materials, and the actual process of recycling at recycling units largely covers what kabariwalas do.

Kabariwalas also called 'itinerant waste collectors'; buy, recyclable waste such as newspaper, glass containers, tin cans etc from residents and shopkeepers. Waste is gathered from what is discarded by households, commercial establishments and industries from municipal wastes. Larger commercial establishments and industries sell the recyclable waste (in segregated form or otherwise) to waste dealers in bulk, who then sell it to recyclers. Kabariwalas sell their collection to waste dealers. Then there are agents who facilitate transactions between medium / large waste dealers and recycling unit owners. They usually sell the collected waste to the local waste dealer on a daily basis, as they have no place to store the waste. Since they have little savings they depend on the waste dealer for loans and...