Kabadiwala – The forgotten ‘Green-Ambassador’

Living in an old, traditional and non-metro city had its own benefits. Life was more relaxed and ever joyful. Enjoyed eating chat, playing in a garden, glued to cricket match commentary and getting wet in the rains. Had bhelpuri in paper cones and not plastic plates. Local shop had small paper bags made out of our old notebook pages for candies and other small knickknacks. Once I got a bag made out of a page from my old notebook-Oh! The raw happiness and joy I got cannot be put into words. You have to experience it. Such was the power of our local recycling, the two very important points stressed by environmentalists’ today- recycle and be local. It was so much into our system that we never faced any of the environmental issues. Had a childhood which my kid will never get in a metro. Less packaged goods, less people, less cars and no water scarcity. A poor and developing nation knew worth of every small piece of recyclable item. Lesser income lead to people reusing waste. Everything had value. Even a torn cloth brought a small utensil. Collecting bottles, broken plastic, paper, magazines till the visit of, now extinct, kabadiwala ( The Green-Ambassador) was practised in every household. Every small scarp had some price. Nothing used to go waste or into landfills. Things were bought keeping in mind that they had to be one time investment be it utensils or furniture.

But everything has a price including development. Concept of use and throw has killed the spirit of the kabadiwalas. People now think otherwise. Living in high rise apartments, kabadiwalas don’t even dare go near, collecting dry recyclable refuse seems a waste of time since they don’t bring back value compared to our salaries. Easier is to dump all into a garbage bag and later into landfills. Modern day kabadiwala’s on call come with a van when contacted and collect the dry waste from door to door. Similarly dry waste collection centres exist too but who has time to utilize these.

I was also at loss initially, as I didn’t want to go out and contact a kabadiwala for my dry waste neither I wanted it to go into garbage. Was mocked by friends and family for having two garbage bags for dry and wet waste. No one liked my collection of  plastics and wrappers in a box in the corner of our balcony. Problem for wet waste was solved automatically when I got the Idea of guerrilla composting but was unable to find solution for dry waste when one day my domestic help saw me changing CFL and asked for the old one. She told me that they can sell them for a rupee or two and host of other things like batteries, cellphone handsets etc. which take effort to dispose as they come under hazardous waste.

After that I started giving all the recyclable waste and papers to my domestic help and the building watchmen. They are in touch with the Kabadiwalas’ and are able to sell all the waste that can be recycled. My domestic help is now my ‘middle man’ on this route of recycling. She is happy getting some pocket money out of it and believe me when money is involved nothing will go waste in a developing country like ours. Though I am not getting monetary returns but I get

-Satisfaction of contributing towards the wellness of our environment which we leave for our children

-Regular and better domestic worker who doesn’t fuss about extra work from time to time.

-Sincere and alert watchman takes good care of apartment/plants when we are out for vacation.

-No storing of unsightly plastics and other dry waste in the balcony.

For once ‘middle man’ is the answer to our problems. I connect to the traditional Kabadiwala through my ‘middle-man’. See the attached photograph of a slum of such domestic workers. How much plastic they keep out of our lands. Help in increasing their income and at the same time keeping our lands clean.


A physicist turned green living advocate.

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Welcome! Fellow Green Living Enthusiast

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