Washing away profits

Washing away profits ALTHOUGH most Bombayites have welcomed the monsoon clouds, scrap merchants, who are a vital link in the waste recycling process, are in a less buoyant mood: huge quantities of scrap deteriorate during the monsoons because of inadequate storage facilities. In the later half of May, scrap traders requested the Maharashtra government to set up a research project to develop technologies to preserve their merchandise during the monsoon months.

The worst affected are traders of ferrous scrap and degraded chemicals, according to Rasoolbhoy Dawood, proprietor of Hind Scrap Merchants, one of the oldest scrap trading firms in the metropolis. "The recycling of iron scrap almost comes to a complete halt during the monsoons," he says, because the recycling process produces a lot of slag, which is itself a waste product. In fact, during the monsoons, most of the small iron foundries around Bombay stop buying scrap iron -- their principal raw material -- which leads to plummeting scrap iron prices. Because of the inadequate storage facilities, several scrap traders dump their stock scrap in areas around Vashi and Thane when prices fall to 40 per cent of the normal, causing an environmental hazard. Dawood estimates that "scrap dealers are forced to dump at least 10 per cent of their metal scrap in open sites around Bombay every monsoon". The problem is compounded by the contamination of groundwater due to the runoff from open chemical waste storage sites.

With an estimated 10,000 scrap dealers in the metropolis and its suburbs, nearly 2,000 of whom trade in chemical wastes, groundwater contamination is assuming alarming proportions. However, the situation may yet take a turn for the better as Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar has assured scrap dealers that their problems will be taken care of.

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