March 2021

Photo Essay - A Day in the Life of Janaki

Photos by Vinod Sebastian, Documentary Photographer

There are seven different types of plastics that need to be sorted. PET bottles being one of the most popular and also the item which is most recycled in India. 

“According to one report, India recycles or reuses over 90 percent of all the PET that’s manufactured in the country. In fact, the waste pickers in India are the largest driving force behind recycling, given that they are the ones sorting through trash and pulling out recyclable materials.” - The State of Recycling in India: Slow Improvements, Earth911

Plastics, once sorted, are sold to scrap dealers. The items are weighed and paid as per weight. Here Janaki is waiting for P. Muniswamy, the scrap dealer, to weigh the plastics she has finished sorting.

It takes skill and innate knowledge built over years to quickly sort through the many different types of plastics. Waste pickers can identify them just by touch or looking at it. A full day's work of sorting nets Janaki INR 216, meager earnings despite the fact that this is essential work and waste pickers' role is critical for the circular economy.


The scrap dealers purchase multiple recyclable materials including all types of high value plastics, paper among others from waste pickers. They are an important part of the waste recycling eco-system in the city. Cardboard / packing material is the most valuable.

Chai, the elixir of life, after a long, hard day's work.



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