The paper recycling unit at Delhi Secretariat turns eight on Wednesday but like all its previous birthdays this one too is devoid of fanfare. With 50 kg of waste paper, files and envelopes deposited every day at the unit, it is marked by the chaos of stacks of paper haphazardly flung on top of each other. “This is from Miranda House waiting to be smoothened,” says Dr. B.C. Sabata pointing at a stack of yellowed paper at the entrance.

Dr. Sabata, a senior scientific officer with the Delhi Government’s Department of Environment, says his department has not purchased a single file cover since the unit became operational in 2005. “More than 200 file covers are produced everyday at this unit,” he says. Sometimes visiting cards and certificates too. Last year, the department sanctioned Rs.4.5 lakh for manpower and maintenance of the machines.

Upstairs, the three staffers – two women and a man -- who were taking a post-lunch break sprung to their feet to provide a demonstration of various methods of paper recycling. On an average day, 35-year-old Sri Prasad soaks the paper in water and grinds it into a pulp. Gyanvati and Kela Devi then take over, press the pulp into thin rectangular sheets and lay it over a wet cloth. The stack is then dried and gives shape to the rough recycled form of the paper. It is then smoothened and cut into desired sizes.

“But we all know how to work every machine,” says Kela Devi, who has worked at the unit for the past five years. The simplicity of the machines meant she took all of seven days to master the technique. “Over the years, I got minor injuries every now and then but nothing serious. Sometimes the water is too hot,” she laughs.

But with four children to support and a long commute from Ghitorni, she says, her income as a daily wager is insufficient.

Yet, the team produces close to 72,000 file covers annually from a small space within the Secretariat premises.

“This is all the space we could accommodate the unit in,” says Dr. Sabata. “This way it is easier to transport waste paper from all the departments to the unit and it will be under our supervision.”

The department is also trying simple innovations. “Earlier we used to have plain file covers. Now they come with cloth edges.”

The staffers at the unit have also had school children visiting to learn about recycling. “As many as 200 schools in Delhi have a small paper recycling units and the students are branching out into making other items too,” says Dr. Sabata. “We are also thinking of making lamp shades and other products.”