Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Recycle Raga

This morning, just as I walked out of my building, a strap on my shoe broke."Damn!" I thought, thinking I'd have to run back up and change into another pair. But then I realised, just 50 metres away, sits a mochi.

Two minutes later, the shoe was as good as new. A shoe that in a more advanced country would have to be chucked into the garbage bin because there would be no one to repair it. And all it cost me was 5 bucks.

What's more, this particular mochi seems to be a pretty satisfied soul. He takes a lot of pride in his work. And workmanship. He doesn't see handling and repairing a shoe as something 'beneath his dignity'.

But, as time goes by, mochis are becoming a rarer species. I doubt their children wish to take up the profession. So, like folks in London and New York, we too will someday have to treat as rubbish what we can repair and recycle.

In Tokyo, I remember seeing perfectly decent bicycles left outside subway stations - abandoned by owners who no longer want them but don't wish to pay to take them away!

Old no more gold
There was a time when our mothers exchanged their old saris for steel bartans. Those days are gone. But we still have raddiwalas who take our old newspapers for recycling. And we still have domestic help who gratefully use old furniture and hardly-used baby clothes.

I guess in the US there is the Salvation Army where you can donate these things. And Oxfam stores in the UK. India too will soon need an organised mechanism where the haves can channel their hand me downs.

Because none of us NEEDS another Tshirt or bedspread or pair of shoes but we still keep buying them. Simply because we can. Simply because we went to the mall. Or simply because it happened to be on sale.

We throw away stuff not because it's outlived its usefulness or functionality but its novelty. Which is a new and heady feeling in this country.

A great idea
Here is one organisation which is doing pioneering work in this direction.

Goonj asks people 'to give us all such material at their home or in office, which they hardly use'.

I know what you're thinking - the mountain of old clothes which were dumped in tsunami-hit regions a few months ago. Which were of practically no use to recipients.

The nice thing with Goonj is that they take the trouble to do rigorous sorting and in a very systemic manner reach them to needy people in the remotest parts of the country for whom these are very valuable.

No one wants scraps thrown at them. Goonj take the trouble to see that the items its ends are usable and clean. If it gives someone a sari, a blouse and petticoat is generally given to go with it.

And if clothes are very old/ torn or unsuitable (who will wear spaghetti tops in villages?!) they are still used as 'chindi' - for making bedsheets/ pattis.

If u have stuff to give away, here's a list of collection centres.

I think it's a great initiative and one which a society with as much inequality as our really needs to encourage.

The fact is we Indians do hate to *throw* things away. Which is why we have so many 'give your old TV and buy a new one' offers. Big Bazaar is even buying bhangaar of all kinds by the kg to attract customers! So if your feng shui expert advises you to declutter your home, you know where to head ...


  1. Thtz a really nice one! is there anything else like goonj??? plz do lemme know! how can ppl chip in in such things?

  2. Anonymous8:43 PM

    Because none of us NEEDS another Tshirt or bedspread or pair of shoes but we still keep buying them. Simply because we can. Simply because we went to the mall. Or simply because it happened to be on sale.

    In relation to this statement of yours, you might want to check out a Bangalore-based NGO - SADI (www.sa-di.org) that promotes "De-materialisation"

  3. wat can i say..an eye opener..
    really nice concept,u are right sooner or later we need to have a central mechanism for such things

  4. Here in the US, we do have shoe repair stores that are part of larger chains (like Meijer, etc.). And I have seen people having their shoes repaired/re-soled there.

    This is probably a good business idea for somebody in India to start a chain of repair shops (maybe a franchise) that will allow the people like 'mochis' to be employed in the future and also povide a one-stop, recongnizable outlet for the customers to get their stuff (shoes, etc.) fixed.

  5. Yes its true...we indians hate to throw things away...even if its that "sadda hua mountain bike" you havnt used in years. ooops ...talking too much about myself..but hey..WE ARE LIKE THAT ONLY... !! ;)

  6. Hi! I happened upon your blog today and thought I would comment on this post.

    I live in the US and I just had my favorite pair of shoes repaired two weeks ago and was astonished when I went to pick them up from the shop that it cost $22 US! I only paid $40 US for them in the first place.

    People instinctively want to reuse and recycle, but sometimes it's not economically sensible to do so. Sad, but true.

  7. Nice post from your side..
    Goonj is doing a great work indeed..

  8. some of us have a group in our college and we are trying to find an NGO that will be able to help a school that has been set up for children who live in the slums.maybe you could help us out here.

  9. " There was a time when our mothers exchanged their old saris for steel bartans. "

    Reminded me of my grandmother. Mai was a pro at getting the best deal from the bhandiwali. i always looked forward to the lively banter that was traded back and forth before the actual trading of old clothes for new utensils.

  10. Indians hate throwing away even small stuff like pens. Use and throw items have never worked, although Gillette managed to get a fair degree of success with the Presto throwaway razor . Plus the raddiwala is working full time due to media paper wars in places like Mumbai. Raddi was never so lucrative.

  11. What GOONJ is doing is definitely great but don't agree with yours "old is not gold" .
    Old is gold and will always remains so . The way the ols songs are being re-mixed and are being picked by gen next , the way my sister or you would have taken out those old short kurtis of my or your mother , the nose ring et al. Things come a full circle . Reminds me of Gladwell's Tipping Point . Everything follows a sine curve ; what goes up must come down. It's just that the wine gets better with the age ;)

  12. Goonj is a really great idea indeed. We definitely need something like it.

    And simply loved your post. Reminded me of one of the signboards in my company about e-waste: "Just because you've outgrown something, it doesn't mean that it's worthless."

  13. Today india has a 25% of the population below poverty line so the situation you are talking will not come soon as you are thinking, but it is good that some organizations have come up with the idea of taking as it will move indians from not throwing things

  14. is this really true... cant believe such an effort is being taken... i am quite a recycler myself but i totally agree with ur extinct mochi theory esp in bigger cities... i hv hell lot of stuff like clothes stationery etc wich can be re used,so i dnt wanna throw thm... cn b wrthy fr smone less privileged... hope it comes to smone's use

  15. wow i just happened to see this. well i started a chain of shoe repair stores in india in 2003. right now i have 4 stores in chennai and 1 in ahmadabad( need to update the website) but it almost seemed like you guys are talking about my business.


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  19. Yes its true...we indians hate to throw things away...even if its that "sadda hua mountain bike" you havnt used in years
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