The aardhis told me that it’s not just Delhi’s waste that makes it way to these plastic markets. The government imports plastic waste, charges a custom duty on it and then the dealers pay an 18% GST on subsequent trading.

“Nobody is trying to shut down the bigger factories contributing to pollution in broad daylight because their owners can pay off the officials. We are preventing pollution on the other hand but nobody cares,” a 36-year-old aardhi who did not want to be named, said.

These traders work under the scorching sun without access to toilets or a clean resting place in the absence of a refuge away from the piles of waste. While they pride themselves on keeping Delhi “from coming to a standstill, trapped under its own garbage”, most of them seem to have lost hope and plan to move back to their villages if they face further harassment by government officials.

It is ironic that their contribution to waste management doesn’t guarantee them any financial or personal security. To quote Kaveri Gill, the author of Of Plastic and Poverty, who was one of the first few to document Delhi’s informal recycling markets: “If we can’t help them, leave them alone.”

Read More