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Recycling units groan under tax burden, waste pickers hit

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has also hit city’s waste pickers hard. Due to the 18 per cent tax imposed on plastic, the waste recycling industry is going through a recession and the worst affected

Published: 04th September 2017 01:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th September 2017 07:48 AM   |  A+A-

Fallen rate of plastic has hit Karpagam and (right) Mary hard. They have been collecting recyclable waste from garbage for over three decades | Nagaraja Gadekal

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has also hit city’s waste pickers hard. Due to the 18 per cent tax imposed on plastic, the waste recycling industry is going through a recession and the worst affected are poor waste pickers.
Prices at which scrap dealers buy plastic from waste pickers have dropped from Rs 15 per kg to Rs 10 at most places. The amount is considerable for waste dealers, who earlier earned about Rs 200-300 per day by selling plastic. Now, many of them are looking for alternative jobs to eke out a living.

Collecting waste is the only way to eke
out a living for 68-year-old  Ravi

Prices of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, which were sold at Rs 40 per kg last year, are currently being sold to scrap dealers at Rs 20 per kg. The price had dropped to as low as Rs 16 per kg at one point.
Social activist Nalini Shekar, the co-founder of Hasiru Dala, an NGO helping waste pickers in the city, said, waste pickers have been affected by multiple problems of late. Firstly, the GST levied on both virgin and recycled plastic is 18 per cent, so several dealers now prefer to buy virgin plastic itself. Secondly, all transactions by waste pickers are made with cash, and Shekhar says GST doesn’t recognise cash economies. Thirdly, in other sectors, transactors in a supply chain recover a part of the GST from the transactor at the next level. However, in this sector, almost all the extra amount has trickled down to the waste pickers.

Shekar also said the reduction in usage of recyclable plastic is bound to have a big environmental impact as most of the recyclable plastic would then get added to the city’s waste. “We will ask the government to reconsider the GST rate for the recycling industry. We want to represent the waste pickers via the group ‘Alliance of Indian waste pickers,’ and have planned to meet local representatives in the coming week,” the activist added.At the monthly meeting of waste pickers held at the office of Hasiru Dala on August 17, about 86 waste pickers who attended it unanimously complained of the low rates, and asked the organisation for alternate jobs. The price of waste paper, which anyway lowers during monsoons, has dropped from Rs 7 to Rs 5 per kg.  

Mansoor G, a scrap dealer and a member of Clean City Recycler Association - a federation of 22 scrap dealers in the city - incurred a loss of Rs 40,000 immediately after the GST came into effect. He said factories have become reluctant to buy recycled plastic from him now, and it will take another month to correctly gauge the impact GST will have on his business.
Shekar said waste pickers in other cities too have been affected, especially in New Delhi and Mumbai.

She walks 6-8 km just to earn Rs 160

Mary, a 48-year-old waste picker, walks about 6-8km every day to collect recyclable materials, mostly plastic, from the garbage dumps. She usually collects 16-18 kg of plastic per day which at the rate of Rs 15 per kg earned her Rs 250-300 per day. Of late, her earnings have reduced as the rate of plastic has fallen to Rs 10 per kg. She now earns only Rs 160-180 per day, a reduction of about 33 per cent. Oblivious of GST, Mary has been told by scrap dealers that the reason for the reduction in price is the monsoon.

He is injured, but can’t take rest post-GST

Ravi, a waste picker, is 68 years old. He currently limps due to an injury on his foot. But since collecting waste is the only way to earn his living, he is forced to walk several kilometres every day. He doesn’t have any children. He was earlier in Tumkur, and there too the rates of plastic have reduced by the same extent. Post-GST, his earnings have decreased considerably, and that is his biggest worry at the moment.

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