ON AN AFTERNOON IN MID MARCH, Sandeep Kumar Sharma, a scrap-paper collector, arrived at the home of Pinky Kataria, a middle-aged resident of Kalkaji in south Delhi. Kataria greeted Sandeep with an enquiry about the rate on offer, and insisted on more than the eleven rupees per kilogram he quoted. Sandeep smiled and politely declined, explaining that the rate was not negotiable. Kataria then led him to a stack of newspapers. Sandeep weighed it on a digital scale, paid Kataria and handed her a receipt, and then loaded the paper into a cargo van.
Sandeep, who is in his mid twenties, is an employee of Raddi Express, a three-month-old company that defines itself as “Delhi’s first professional waste paper pickup service.” It offers pickups across the city, which can be scheduled via a telephone hotline or the company’s website. With accurate weighing and a fixed price, Raddi Express promises to free customers from the haggling that it says is often involved in dealing with the traditional scrap collectors—raddiwallas—common in Indian neighbourhoods. The company also offers a shredding service for customers who want to recycle confidential papers. Sandeep was dressed in a green sweatshirt bearing the company logo: the outline of a sprinting boy holding a stack of paper in one hand, inside of which is a circle with the words “samriddhi sewak” (prosperity agent) and “100% Recycling Guaranteed.” Raddi Express prides itself on a promise that all the paper it collects will be recycled, which it claims is not always the practice in the current scrap trade.
At the Raddi Express offices in Nehru Place, a commercial hub near the city centre, Ajay Sharma, the company’s deputy general manager, explained how the company proposed to increase the prosperity of both its customers and the country. “The aim … is to educate people about utility of recycling,” he said, and also to reduce India’s reliance “on raw material imports for the paper industry.” According to a government report from 2011, India recovers and recycles only 27 percent—about three million tonnes—of the paper it consumes every year, with much of the remainder ending up in landfills. For comparison, Germany, which has the highest such figure in the world, recycles 73 percent of its paper. Demand for scrap paper at Indian mills far exceeds domestic supply; the same report estimates that the country imported one billion dollars worth of scrap paper in 2011. Sharma said Raddi Express was started to try and fill that gap.
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