I am L. Lakshmanan, and I have been doing this work for 20 years with my brothers, father and uncle. We have three shops in Tiruchi. I work here (in Old Vannarapettai, Puthur), with two other staff.

We accept anything that the people in the neighbourhood discard - old newspapers, plastic wares, and metals. As the city gets more modern, you have more people buying more things.

Our day starts at 9 a.m. Other than people coming to us, we also are called often to go and collect large amounts of waste.

We collect domestic waste, old buckets, milk packets, bottles, and also trash from shops. The large number of Tasmac Bars in this area means we find a lot of low grade glass liquor bottles lying around on the road.

We don’t wear protective gloves or any special equipment even though the waste sometimes contains chemicals and broken glass – so far we have not been harmed while working. Our shop is open until 11 p.m.

After sorting, the waste is sold to recycling plants along Thanjavur Road – everything is ground and re-produced into its original form – paper to paper, plastic to plastic and metal to metal. You’d be surprised to see the possibilities for recycling in the most common goods. Even a small thing like an insulated casserole dish has three or four layers that can be separately sold.

I just fell into this business; I have studied up to 10th standard, and like a bird collecting twigs for its nest, I have earned a little out of this trade to get build a small house, get married, and have a family life. It’s not luxurious, but I’m happy with what I have.

There has not been much of a change in people’s habits related to waste disposal here. Twenty years ago, they were still throwing away stuff – now though, there’s a glut of plastic.

Plastic disposables like mineral water bottles, plates, glasses have gone up in recent times, especially during the festival and marriage season. We buy all this on kilo basis. Every material has a price – starting from Rs. 2. The costliest is iron waste – Rs. 15-18 per kilo. We used to have manual weighing scales before, now I am using electronic scales.

Kabadiwalas sometimes get hauled up for pollution or dealing in stolen goods. But I have a cardinal rule – I don’t entertain anyone who turns up something they have burgled from somewhere, even if it’s from their own home. Society is getting caught up in an ‘English’ way of life, and the crimes are increasing.

(A fortnightly column on the men and women who make Tiruchi what it is)