With the resale value on glass bottles becoming minuscule after the 18 per cent tax on glass products as per GST, waste collectors, who help recycle glass, paper and plastic, and have traditionally been a key link in the city’s inadequate waste management infrastructure, have been advising people to dump bottles in the trash. The result, discarded bottles, that once contained beer, whiskey, or even lemon extracts, will likely end up in a landfill — not decomposing for centuries.
Waste collectors say that while previously a 750 ml bottle of wine would fetch them Re 1 per bottle, now, a kilo of used bottles is worth the same amount of money. “Bilkul bandh ho gaya hai,” said Mohammad Hamid Ali, a waste picker, who also collects kabaad from the NDMC area. Others say they have started to smash glass bottles into smaller pieces to sell as mixed glass, for Re 1 per kilo.
“I have started telling customers to collect bottles and keep them to sell later in the hope that rates increase,” said Ali. He claims his earnings have dipped by 40 per cent since the new tax regime has hit all products he collects: glass bottles, plastic and paper.
Despite the obvious effect this will have on the environment, the GST affects livelihoods and families of the waste pickers — most of whom are migrants. “There are 3-4 lakh informal workers in the city who are related to waste management, especially in the informal sector,” said Swati Singh Sambhyal, programme officer at Centre for Science and Environment.
To put it in perspective: 60 per cent of recycling activities in India is done in the informal sector. “Of that, five-six per cent of municipal solid waste is glass products,” said Sambhyal. “This will disrupt the informal glass recycling sector,” she said, adding that the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, has also indicated an intent to formalise the informal sector.
The scrap market too has taken a hit. Many contractors who collect waste from smaller waste collectors claim that previously an area that was serviced by 10 people, has seen reduction by more than half. Further, many with large quantities of kabaad have been stopped by cops asking for an ‘invoice’ to be shown, which is impossible to come by.
Balmukund Kumar from NGO Chintan said, “Some may even accept glass bottles because the contractor he sells to has sufficient capital for now. But as the chain progresses, the money doesn’t filter back down,” he said.