LAHORE - Afghan scavengers are stealing recyclable material worth over Rs 720 million annually with impunity from the garbage that is the sole property of the Solid Waste Management (SWM) of the City District Government Lahore. Though the illegal practice going on since long is causing financial damages to the SWM but the authority concerned is still unmoved to take prompt action. Sources in the SWM have revealed that the Afghan scavengers pick up most of the items which can be recycled or are in demand in recycling industry, adding the SWM does not get better prices as the big chunk of recyclable material is already taken by the scavengers. "Picking up recyclable items from the garbage is illegal unless the waste pickers sign any contract with the SWM," they maintained. They said the open daylight 'dacoity' was rampant with impunity as about 18,000 Afghan scavengers stole recyclable waste worth Rs 2 million every day. "They rove on foot and bicycles mostly in affluent localities like Gulberg, Model Town, Faisal Town, Garden Town, Defence, Shadman, Shah Jamal, Muslim Town and Upper Mall that generate more consumables for recycling in domestic garbage," the sources added. They informed that the water disposal project launched by the SWM some years back, also had to lick the dust due to the illegal practice of the scavengers. "The SWM owns all garbage in City, franchised waste disposal to private companies including Waste Busters, Waste Collection and Sweeping as well as City Cleaning. But all of them had to step out of the contract with the SWM as they had nothing to pick after the illegal collection of recyclable items by the scavengers," they said. "The illegal practice has also affected the supply and amount of recyclable material to the composting plant at Mehmood Booti. Earlier it was 1,000 tonnes but now had reduced to 700 tonnes daily," they said. The sources also informed, "The plant manufactures compost used in fertilizers, aiding the agriculture-based economy of Punjab. It also prepares Refused Dried Fuel (RDF) that replaces coal," and added that cement factories had demanded the RDF at the rate of Rs 300 per tonnes because of its economical prices. It may be recalled that the City generates 4,850 tonnes of waste every day, out of which 30 per cent is recyclable. The items that can be recycled include bones, glass (scraps), paper (scrap/cardboard), plastics/polyethylene, tin/metals, rubber/tyre & tubes, waste oil/grease. More than 200 garbage-recycling factories are working in the City and its suburbs. An official from the Waste Burner told The Nation, "We singed a contract against a Rs 1.7 million bid for picking recyclable material but the Afghan scavengers caused failure to the contract." He said that his company picked up garbage from 300 garbage skips in Shalimar Town and Samnabad Town but failed to find recyclable waste from it, as the scavengers had picked everything out already. He accused that some collectors using handcarts and donkey-carts were patronised by the SWM staff for 'commission' and many donkey-cart collectors were the SWM employees. When talked to District Officer (Operation North) Rafiq Ahmed Jatoi replied that recyclable material was being stolen by Afghan scavengers daily. He admitted that the scavengers were the cause of scraping of agreement between the private companies and the SWM. The commercial value of Lahore's garbage has increased to manifold. He hoped that the SWM was going to initiate the same project in coming days after addressing the problem. He said the SWM had singed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Chinese company for the waste collection in the City. He said the company would prepare feasibility report within four months, adding with the introduction of franchised waste collection system; the issue would be ironed out automatically.