REVOLUTIONISING RECYCLING | Kulgam’s eco-warrior transforms waste into employment

Kulgam, Dec 25: Tariq Ahmad Ganie was quite young when he went to Delhi to find some work to supplement the measly income of his family.

He took up various menial jobs near construction sites before landing in a scrap recycling unit.

Ganie, like many of his fellow workers, segregated scrap, pushed handcarts piled with mountains of garbage and even collected trash from the thin alleyways of Delhi.

However, while working at the unit, he would observe things very keenly.

He spent a good deal of time getting acquainted with the entire process of recycling – from collecting the scrap to its final leg of processing.

He also tried to know about the untold harm caused by plastic and other non-biodegradable waste to the ecosystem.

Ganie returned home after spending more than 5 years in Delhi.

Although his savings were too little, he returned with a great deal of experience, spurring him to set up a similar unit at his native place in Gadihama, a quaint village in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district.

“I haven’t received any formal education, but I am aware of the harmful impact of plastic on the environment,” says Ganie.

He said that the copious amount of plastic and other waste littering the streets and thoroughfares in villages and towns was not only polluting our surroundings but harming our health as well.

Upon his return, Ganie approached a bank and took out a loan to set up a recycling unit in his area.

He also engaged a few local youth to collect the scrap.

“We began from our village and collected all the garbage and segregated it for recycling. It is now well-nigh free from single-use plastic items,” said Ganie.

After a couple of years, he engaged a few more unemployed youth and helped some of them financially to buy three-wheeler load carriers to ferry the scrap from different parts of the district.

“Today a fleet of around 40 such load carriers work with the unit,” said Ganie.

He said that they ferried the scarp from the surrounding districts as well.

“They not only earn a decent living but also contribute to doing away with the plastic and other waste from these areas,” he said.

Ganie has also attempted to promote behaviour change among the residents regarding environmental awareness.

“I requested many residents and shopkeepers to avoid discarding plastic items like empty bottles, wrappers and other waste on the streets. Instead, I encourage them to set aside these items for collection, which I subsequently arrange,” he said.

At least 60 youth, many of them with university degrees rely on Ganie’s initiative to make their living.

His unit has weathered many storms since its inception in 2010 but continues to stand tall.

In 2020, when COVID-19 brought the entire world to a grinding halt and many small-scale units either permanently shut their operations or laid off their employees due to protracted lockdowns, Ganie continued to offer salaries to their employees despite grappling with losses.

“And when the restrictions were eased, we started working following the complete COVID-19 protocol,” he said.

Ganie said that one of the key goals of his unit was also to generate employment for the local youth.

His annual turnover has touched Rs 3 crore.

However, Ganie said that the government must support such units by providing them with loans with low-interest rates and subsidies.

“I have taken the loan at a high-interest rate. I am not aware if there are any schemes with the government to help such units. The government must provide such units with subsidies and other benefits so that they could contribute to lowering the unemployment levels,” Ganie said.

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