Reuse, recycle: Pune waste pickers cooperative shows way to deal with unused household items, clothes

What do we do with all those unused household items or clothes that pile up in our homes? People always face this difficult question. To help them, the Swach Cooperative for Waste Collectors in Pune has run a program called “V-collection” that has been collecting these materials and responsible for their reuse and recycling for the past 11 years.

Operating on the principle of thrift stores, these unused items are sold to people who need them to increase their life cycle for a few more years, Harshad Barde, director of Swach said.

Bardi said that things like old clothes, household utensils, old electrical and electronic gadgets, and children’s toys have a shelf life, but people find it hard to get rid of them. “It could be for emotional or logistical reasons. Thus, if one has an old washing machine or a broken chair, the waste picker will not accept it simply because of the logistics involved.”

While there are recyclers who buy these items, accessing these recyclers can be difficult for most people. In 2011, Swach came up with the idea for “V-collection”. The idea was simple, Bardi said – what doesn’t constitute daily waste can be donated to “V-collection” campaigns. Before we started this movement, we implemented awareness programs among the citizens to make them aware of this campaign. We told them that their donation would reach the right people.

Citizens donate their items ranging from old clothes to unused cables which Swach sorts and decides which ones to send for reuse. In the V-collection store located in the old Aundh Ward office off Bremen Chowk, Swach has a range of clothes, books, electronic gadgets, utensils, toys, etc.

To make the model self-sustaining, Bardi said, a minimum fee is charged when items are sold. While recyclers have a fixed price for each type of waste, in the case of reuse, things are not quite that organized. “So a pair of old jeans can be sold for 100 rupees in this store,” he said.

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For electronics, devices that can be used are sold and the rest is sent to recyclers authorized by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board. He said all the rest of the income is being funneled into scholarships for needy students.

Over the past few years, Swach has made six to eight trips over the weekend which translates to 25-30 trips a month. So far, the campaign has yielded 1,21,000 kg of old clothing along with 1,04,000 kg of other items. Old books weighing 4,000 kg were also collected.

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