December 2022

Where plastic waste goes to live

Sights from a three-decades-old waste recycling hub

In one of Bengaluru’s oldest areas, nestled within the bustling KR Market, is Jolly Mohalla. 

At first sight, you wouldn’t think much of Jolly Mohalla, shadowed as it is by street vendors hawking colourful flowers, fresh vegetables and dirt-cheap electronics. 

But, walk a little further, and you will find a buzzing market of a different kind - a place where plastic trash such as ballpoint pens and old cassettes find a second life. 

Our photographer Vinod Sebastian, who has been visually documenting Saamuhika Shakti communities for the last two years, thought he knew what to expect when he walked through what he thought was a door.

Inside, he found a whole new world.

The door that Vinod walked through led to a narrow passage, a little wider than a person, with more doors on either side and almost no light. A passage that has 40 homes in it. Their homes are so small that if two people lie down on the floor, a third will not fit in. But more often than not this space is home to five of a family. They sleep sitting, leaning on each other for support.

Curious kids peek out of their homes as Vinod walks by.

Out of their homes for a little bit of sunshine and warmth. 

“My home is too cold and I can’t take it sometimes,” says Chitra, a resident who has come out to the main road for some light and to socialize. 

Chitra allows us into her home. 

The street that runs through the community is a place for people to meet, chat or just get some fresh air and sunlight.

Arjunan and his wife Ammani live in this makeshift home on the main road that runs through the community. Arjunan decided to move here after suffering a stroke a few years ago. “I prefer this to my home, which is at the end of the community and gets no light or fresh air.”

Hasiru Dala staff Sowbhagyamma facilitated the visit to the community. She interacts with the residents and waste sorters regularly. Here, she records data for a survey.

Lakshmi lives with her three children and husband in this space, under a staircase of a scrap dealer's shop. Her husband is a labourer at the market, and her two older children are in school. Lakshmi is unable to work at the moment as the youngest child needs care. 

Mohammed Irshad is the owner of a scrap shop that supplies recycled PET bottles to Hasiru Dala Innovations.

Krishnappa works at a scrap shop segregating plastics. Here, he is seen separating the different plastics found in pens. He has worked at this job for several years and is happy with his work.

Pens and cassette tapes being segregated.
Salim climbs into this giant bag to use his body weight to pack in the segregated plastic that will be sent to a recycling center.
Sowbhagyamma has been working with Santosh, who has been a waste segregator for five years, to get a bank account and other documents.

Suryanarayan is the owner of this shop where used gunny bags are sorted, repaired, and resold. He says business was poor this year, compared to the two previous COVID-hit years when his business touched record levels. “During COVID, many people went back to their villages and cultivated their fields, and the rains were also very good. This led to a bumper harvest and resulted in massive demand for gunny bags,” he shares. 

As Vinod wrapped up his documentation, the workers shared a joke about him with Sowbhagyamma.

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