Mundka Plastic Market

“[A]t the heart of the city life is the capacity for its different people, spaces, activities, and things to interact in ways that exceed any attempt to regulate them. While the absence of regulation is commonly seen as a bad thing, one must first start with the understanding that no form of regulation can keep the city ‘in line’.” AbdoMaliq Simone (City Life from Jakarta to Dakar)

This can’t be truer for Delhi – a city of ‘wallas’ who are struggling to survive as Delhi strives towards its ideal as a ‘world-class’ city. In his essay  “Remaindered Things and Remaindered Lives: Travelling with Delhi’s Waste” Vinay Gudwani describes the unregulated form of Delhi’s informal waste sector: “The circuits of waste weave a subterranean geography of people, money and matter that stretches well beyond Delhi, into various corners of India and often the globe. What is clear, if not immediately obvious is that in the absence of this intricate web of recycling, cities like Delhi would soon choke under the weight of their waste. Consider that Delhi generates approximately 7500 tons of municipal solid waste – garbage- everyday. Much of this would end up in landfills or be simply burned in the open, causing uncertain environmental harm, were it not for the labours of a dispersed army of 150,000 to 200,000 no-formal sector waste collectors…”

However the kabaris (waste collectors, rag pickers) are being systematically evicted from the city centre as soaring rents and corporatization in parallel to the orientation of the city being geared towards an image defined by real estate. This is part of a visceral mistrust of the urban poor and informal sector by the municipal authorities and is part of wider trend towards privatization and formalization. “[A]n array of preconceptions about the informal economy – some party true, others outright false – colours the views of urban policymakers and planners, and makes it difficult for them to recognize the profound economic value of informal-sector activities such as waste picking and processing. … What needs to be reiterated is not only the significant employment opportunities generated by urban informal-sector economies, but also their dense inter-linkages with formal-sector economies within cities.” (Gidwani)

Gidwani draws many lessons from Mundka Plastic Market which was in 2010, before it was burnt down in an act of sabotage, Asia’s largest plastic scrap market. “One reason was the hostility of the neighbourhood that resented the plastic business. Gidwani’s essay makes the case for recognizing the overlooked contributions of the informal sector to Delhi’s urban economy.” (Bharati Chaturvedi, Introduction to Finding Delhi, Loss and Renewal in the Megacity)

Watch a news report:

In close succession to each other, Mayapuri – home to Delhi’s largest scrap metal market, suffered a radiation leak that summoned the government to address waste and recycling systems. In a shocking admission of indifference to a long-established predominantly informal trade Rakesh Mehta, chief secretary of the Delhi government, claimed, “We will look at the supply chains – we don’t know enough about scrap markets and where all the waste goes.”


I was interested in if this was Asia’s largest plastic market – how big was that?

So using google earth I calculated the area from what I could see was clearly plastic scrap recycling and came to a shocking 1707458.9 (+/- 0.001) square meters. I took that area and approximated that over Hyde Park to get a idea of what that means. See images in slideshow (Note: images are not at the same scale; the comparison is the yellow area in Mundka is equivalent to the yellow box in London):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Quotes from: Finding Delhi, Loss and Renewal in the Megacity Edited By Bhaati Chaturvedi


About juliakingat

British / Venezuelan, Architect & Urban Researcher; PhD Candidate

One comment

  1. scrap plastic recycling

    scrap plastic recycling is a keen topic i am interested it, Subscribed!

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