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Another day, another dhalao

26 Feb

When I arrived in Delhi monsoon was still in full swing. The days were hot and muggy and you could only sleep with a fan or air conditioner.

A few days after I’d moved into my apartment, I decided to treat myself at the local ice cream parlour. The icecream was great but, at 80 rupees a scoop, definitely pricey.

On my stroll home I passed my neighbourhood dhalao, or waste collection centre.

Neighbourhood dhalao south delhi

Kailash Colony, South Delhi neighbourhood dhalao

It was getting dark, so I was startled by something scrabbling through the rotting food scraps, crumpled packaging and broken bits of crockery.

It was a man.Ragpicker sorting waste

He stopped his sorting and turned towards me. We looked at each other for a moment.

It would be weeks before I understood the vital role he played in recycling my daily domestic waste.

I didn’t yet know that my ice cream cost around the same amount of money he would earn on an average day.

It would also be some time before I would learn about the Delhi government’s plans to remove the dhalaos (and his workspace) from the city.

And I certainly would never have predicted that one day, a couple of months from that moment, I would smash a glass bottle in my kitchen, then fret about how to dispose of the shards.

Because I would know then that Delhi’s recycling is often done by people with bare hands and no protective clothing.

But I wasn’t concerned with any of this then.

I just glanced away from him and continued walking.

He turned back to his work.

And I ate expensive ice cream.

Ragpicker collecting recyclables


Social enterprise: business with benefits

22 Feb Jenna and the new mobile medical clinic van

So I was procrastinating for some time today, on one of the most amusing blogs I’ve stumbled onto in a while: Why make this? Why indeed.

The moral of the story? Laughing until there’s tears is actually a good way to bring on motivation.  And with that, it’s back to Serious Land…

Following on from our Interview with Anita Ahuja last week, here’s a few images showcasing the social services currently provided by Conserve India.

Many of the Conserve’s production teams (known as fabricators) are based in small workshops around Delhi.

Conserve recently began providing free health services for these workers and I joined them to document an eye clinic held at one of the East Delhi workshops.

The first step was to capture relevant health details such as age, weight and current medical issues…

Conserve India health clinic doctor

Conserve's doctors collect and record patient details

Conserve India health clinic

…Then staff were guided through an eye test.

The doctors get around language and reading challenges by simply asking staff to tell them which way the symbol is facing (on the far right chart)…

Conserve India health clinic eye check chart

Then the eyes are thoroughly examined and…

…prescriptions and treatment advices are given if needed.

Conserve India health clinic eye check  prescription

Conserve is also working with ragpicker communities living in Delhi’s slums, providing mobile health services and…

Jenna and the new mobile medical clinic van

Jenna and the new mobile medical clinic van

…a school for around 200 children.

Conserve India's school project

Conserve India's school project. Image courtesy of Jenna and Christina.

Jenna and Christina at the Conserve India school

Image courtesy of Jenna and Christina

More soon,


Social Impact

26 Jan

Oh my, it’s been a really busy few weeks! Remember the British company we worked with in Delhi? Out of the blue they contacted me to see if I’d work on the sustainability part of a tender submission they’re putting together. I said,”Really? You’d pay me for doing something I enjoy? Yes please!” So I’ll be taking the next week to focus on this, but I’ll be be back soon to finish our project story.

Before signing off, I wanted to share with you a little piece of interesting reporting. It’s about trying to answer questions triggered by the journalist in my earlier post: why should the Games give you waste over giving it to poor people who lost their slum homes because of this event?

But did this really happen? Did people lose their homes because of the Games?

I never had much opportunity to physically go out and look for evidence of slum clearing by the city’s authorities during the Games. But a couple of enterprising Big Picture photographers did, and here’s what they documented:

Delhi slum clearing

Indian slum dweller Amit Kumar stands on the spot where his hut was demolished in New Delhi on September 27, 2010 as reported on's The Big Picture (MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Delhi slum kids

Children search for their belongings among the debris of demolished shanties in Gurgaon, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, September 30, 2010. The shanties were demolished by municipal workers near the Commonwealth Games shooting range on September 28, local media reported. (REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma)

Even more compelling evidence is revealed in Sumita Dasgupta’s startling piece on the unintended impact of clearing out the Gurgaon’s slum communities. I’ve sampled a small part of her article here, but I do recommend reading the full piece if you have 5 minutes to spare:

“…While the outer layer of the city had begun to shine, the colonies lying in the inner circles of Gurgaon suddenly looked shockingly shabby…The lanes inside the colonies were drowned in garbage, with plastic bottles, decaying vegetables, broken glass pieces strewn all over. This flood of filth had spilled over to Gurgaon’s arterial roads as well. The litter bins standing outside the gates had practically disappeared under the burden of waste.

So what went wrong? Well, when in the run up to the Games, the Gurgaon authorities decided to remove the slums, and drive out (albeit temporarily) the panic stricken people living there beyond the borders, they obviously had not realised how lethally this move was going to affect their Clean-Up operations. With the slum population gone, the lowest and the most critical link in the ranks of the city’s waste managers had gone missing too…” Games, Garbage and Gurgaon, Centre for Science and Environment, 13 Oct, 2010

So I guess there was a cost to the Delhi 2010 Games that may not readily show up on any final accounting reports – because, dear readers, it was human.

P.S. In case you haven’t clocked it yet, where an image, idea or words are from someone else I’m trying to make sure they’re fully attributed. It’s always a tricky one when you don’t have a lot of money to pay someone for their creative output (which is – as my creative professional friends say – the ultimate in attributing!)

But I was reminded there’s still a lot of value in ‘right proper’ sharing on the internet by Rosscott and Loldwell’s amusing comic strip on the topic. It’s ‘pretty cool’…so I’m sharing it… with credit…where it’s due.

Where do we go?…

21 Nov

… ‘Oh, where do we go now?…Sweet child o’ mine’. Guns ‘n’ Roses

Yep. That’s right: this song has been running relentlessly through my head while researching and writing this particular post. (Go on, treat yourself to a little late eighties glam-rock posturing. You know you want to).

What’s a global hit from the eighties got to do with upcycling?

It started a few weeks ago, during the Games, while talking to the South Asian correspondents for British and Australian news publications about what we were attempting to do.

I felt under-prepared for the interview – particularly when one of the journalists asked, “A lot of the city’s slums have been cleared out for this event. Why should the Games give you waste, like vinyl banners, when they could be used by poor people to re-build their homes?”

washing behind a wall wrap

Image courtesy AP Photo/Manish Swarup via The Big Picture,

Good. Question.

I fumbled a reply and the interview ended with neither journalist running a story (I know – it’s enough to make any half-savvy PR girl weep).

But it did get me to thinking: when it’s not going to landfill, where does all the waste in Delhi end up?

So, while humming the Gunner’s theme tune, I did a little research on the waste stream we are following from the Games – scrap banners.

We asked the company storing the banners where they thought the scrap was used. They told us they sell it for a small fee to the waste-dealing middlemen of Delhi – the kabadi wallas. Beyond this, they could only guess where the material went.

So I took my trusty little digi cam for a scout around the city to see what I could see:

It’s entirely possible the banners might get used as temporary shelters in one of Delhi’s jugghis (slums)…

Slum settlement on my route to work in East Delhi

Slum settlement on my route to work in East Delhi

…or covering loads on the back of trucks…

Truck canvas cover

Protecting the cargo with the canvas

…or as a colourful roof for a rickshaw…

Rickshaw canvas roof

Pimp my ride with upcycling style

…and, of course, as excellent shades against Delhi’s ferocious Summer heat…

Shade canvas

Look closely - these are actually Games banners converted to shade cloths!

So yeah, there’s a lot of informal repurposing, reusing and upcycling already going on in Delhi.

But with the city’s residents generating around 7,000 tonnes of waste a day, there’s also a lot of rubbish going straight to the dumps or simply being burnt on the streets…

Burning waste in Delhi

Burning waste, including plastics, on a street corner in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi

And it’s not just a problem for Delhi: although the Australian state of Victoria achieves pretty high recycling rates, the amount of waste generated by the 5.5 million population continues to increase each year.

Upcycling is one of many ways to tackle this problem by rethinking our headspace on waste – it’s about seeing value (and beauty) in things we might otherwise discard.

Getting back to that song, what would happen if we thought of our products as our own children?

We’d want to cherish them, protect them and never give them away. And, most of all, we’d do everything we could to stop them ending up here…

products and child

…wouldn’t we?

‘Now and then, when I see [his] face, [he] takes me away to that special place. And if I stared too long, I’d probably break down and cry’…

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