Scrappy Business

New companies put a fresh spin on the raddi trade

Raddi Express allows customers to schedule pickups online. COURTESY RADDI EXPRESS
01 April, 2014

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.

The report also notes that 95 percent of the paper India recovers is collected by informal, door-to-door raddiwallas. Sharma said Raddi Express wanted to cut into that share and “professionalise the system.” But the company has some way to go before it can match what its competitors already offer—after the Raddi Express pickup from Kataria’s home, her first interaction with the company, she complained that her neighbourhood raddiwalla “takes away the waste plastic, glass and metal too.” Two other new scrap companies, which also let customers book pickups online or via telephone, have addressed such demands. Raddi Bazaar, which operates out of Dwarka in south-west Delhi, also takes plastic and glass waste; (kuppathotti is Tamil for “garbage bin”) covers Chennai and Bangalore, and accepts all recyclable material.

When informed about the new practices in the raddi business, Ram Mahajan, a raddiwalla in Mukherjee Nagar in north Delhi who has been in the trade for almost twenty years, was displeased with insinuations that raddiwallas were dishonest. Mahajan offers ten rupees for every kilogram of paper, and said that regardless of fluctuations in price raddiwallas “just make a margin of one rupee per kilo.” “The malpractices in weighing that we are accused of are to defend that paltry share … when customers haggle for a higher rate,” he said. Shehzad Mohammad, another raddiwalla working in north Delhi, smiled wryly when I told him that Raddi Express claimed to be more environmentally friendly than traditional collectors. “That is just packing an old medicine in a new bottle,” he said. “We have been facilitating recycling for ages.”