Paperman, a city-based NGO, has been campaigning for efficient waste management and using the money raised through recycling to educate children.

There is a man on a mission. Standing next to two dustbins near the food court at Madras Market, he is politely asking visitors to segregate waste. Some listen intently but some others don’t. “See, we specifically say plastic and this is what gets dropped in here,” says Matthew Jose, as we walk around and he points to a dustbin filled with empty plates and napkins. He shakes his head, “Everyone talks about waste management but unless they realise its value, nothing will change.”

Matthew, 26, runs Paperman, an NGO that has been campaigning for efficient waste management since 2010. They do this by creating an organised system of 120 kabbadiwallas across the city, training them, and acting as a middle-point between customers looking to recycle and the recyclers. “Did you know that 20 per cent of recycling happens in the city because of kabbadiwalas? We need to offer them the dignity of labour,” he says. For this to happen, they must be considered entrepreneurs of waste management. “This will better their lives, which in turn will transform society.”

Why does Paperman work? “Because it’s convenient,” shrugs Matthew. “People will recycle if they can call a recycler, who will pick up the waste from home. We help them with this. When the customers call our hotline or register online, the kabbadiwala closest to their house will call within 48 hours. We have so far built a base of 220 customers.”

And in the last two weeks, the group has launched two campaigns, linking waste management with education. The first was Pongal to Republic Day, a 12-day campaign to collect waste from homes and use this to educate children. The campaign got over on January 26. “We have received about 260 calls totally of which 180 have materialised. The collection has been used to fund the education of five children so far. Since some of the calls were from schools, we will be collecting the waste over the week and calculating the rest of the amount,” says Matthew. The money from the campaign goes to Nanhi Kali, an NGO based out of Mumbai that works with 80,000 children across the country.

What Matthew calls a ‘social experiment’ is Paperman’s drive to see if people will willingly segregate if there are separate bins and if they knew where their plastic went. This happened over the weekend at Wesley Grounds in Royapettah during the lifestyle fair. The group placed 10 trash cans, six for collecting plastic and four for the rest. “When you buy a movie ticket, you throw the ticket out afterwards without really thinking about it. We talk about trash but how do you do something without completely appreciating its value? So, we connected waste segregation and management to children’s education,” Matthew explains. “Now, there is a purpose behind the bottle.”

Over the weekend, they managed to collect 1,600 plastic bottles and will be using them to collect money to fund more children’s education. “It’s a bit depressing that people just drop whatever they want in the cans even when there are boards over them clearly stating their purpose,” he sighs. “This attitude really has to change.” On the bright side, though, the NGO has big goals for the future. “Our aim is to send 8,000 kids to school in a couple of years. We have supported 108 children so far,” he adds.