They collect small bits of paper, plastics, take them to school and get money in return

Students of 30 schools in the city have found a new way to make extra pocket money. They collect small bits of paper, plastics, metal, broken fashion jewellery, cartons and pet bottles and take them to their school to be weighed and get money in return.

“Though each student gets a small amount by collecting 7 to 8 kg of such materials each month, they are happy to get that in exchange for waste which would otherwise be disposed of in the bin,” said a teacher in one of the schools, in Triplicane, which have enrolled in ITC's Wealth Out of Waste (WOW) initiative. Students of classes IV to X are involved in the initiative.

The ITC had, in 2009, initially launched the WOW initiative along with the Chennai Corporation. It had been collecting dry recyclable waste from houses in Kilpauk zone. Over the past six months, it has expanded its services to 30 schools, 10 colleges, several IT majors and gated communities.

K. Ramanan, chief manager – material, ITC Paperboards and Specialty Papers Division said: “We have now reduced the number of individual houses and are concentrating on gated communities instead. WOW is also trying to rope in government offices. The AG's office is among our clients…they give us their sweeping waste and we collect about 1,000 kg from them.”

Ramky Reclamation and Recycling Ltd. handles the logistics part of the operations by collecting, segregating and sending the material for recycling. “Last month alone, WOW collected a total of 400 tonnes of recyclable material. We provide bags to students, residents of gated communities and collect the material on a regular basis,” said P. Madhusudhan Rao, senior manager (operations).

The collected paper goes to the ITC mill in Coimbatore to be made in pulp and then board. WOW, however, does not collect thermocol and paper cups.

The students have taken the message of recycling home too.

N. Srinivasa Madhavan, a resident of DABC Abhinayam Phase 2, Mogappair, said though WOW was launched only recently in his complex, he learnt about it from his daughter Sadhana, a student of class IX at TI School in Ambattur. “She used to get a bit of pocket money so she would collect quite enthusiastically,” he said.

What brings in pocket money for students brings the daily bread and butter for women who sort the material. Every day, B.Usha, Y.Shanti, M.Mala and E.Rani sort through 250 kg of bits of paper comprising bus tickets, bills, used envelopes, greeting cards, milk covers, card board boxes, dry plastic tea and coffee cups, polythene covers of all thicknesses, silver foil, broken safety pins, used soft drink cans, discarded toys, plastic ropes used to dry clothes, and a lot of other things. Hand-picked from among rag-pickers and those who have worked with garbage, these women take home a monthly salary of Rs. 4,200. It is a tough job, but the women say that though they would like Rs.600 more towards bus fare, they don't mind doing it.