I recently visited the home of India’s glass industry, Firozabad, 250 kms away from Delhi and more commonly regarded as “The City of Bangles”. There are over 500 glass factories that produce everything from the inexpensive colourful bangles that adorn the wrists of women across the country – to high end glass fittings, chandeliers, decorative lamps and table ware.
In the hustle bustle of the city, it is fairly easy to identify the glass factories with large chimneys, clustered in an area of 20 sq kms. Let alone the local manufacturing of glass products, the city also practices trading of CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) glass and alcohol bottles that comes from Delhi, U.P, Gujarat, and Mumbai and gets auctioned at a major intersection of the city (Rayetala Chowk), at INR 2-3 per kg and is sold for INR 7-8 per kg.
Glass Products Crushed by Bare Hands
My first stop was at a cullet sorting and crushing station where the alcohol bottles and other glass products are crushed by bare hands and converted into powdered form. What is left over is scrap waste that is openly burnt, generating fumes that are highly toxic in nature.
The Massive Bangle Making Industry
Most impressive was the bangle making factory that runs two shifts and employs around 300 people. They use subsidized natural gas in large furnaces for the production of bangles, ever since the Supreme Court of India barred them from using charcoal in 1996.
The bangle-making production units even today draw the biggest number of workers, including from nearby villages and has a large number of skilled and semi-skilled labour, involved in the processes of blowing, cutting, polishing, melting and engraving artistic designs.
But it is the condition of these workers that is more troublesome! The kind of problems the workers face while working inside the factories, cannot be felt from outside. They are forced to work in filthy environments with immense heat and are rarely provided with any kind of protective safety gear. Workers, including both men and women, have no access to safety-shoes and gloves while working in these glass and bangle factories and more often suffer from lung diseases, eye infections and other health hazards.
Currently, the bigger problem is that hundreds of labourers have been rendered jobless in Firozabad as many factories have downed their shutters and only 50 of these factories are functional at present, because of the cash crunch due to demonetisation. It is difficult for the workers to make ends meet with no income.
Is the CRT Glass Recycling really happening?
For next time, I would like to follow the trail of CRT glass from old TVs and monitors. My conversations and discussions with the workers and traders in Firozabad, indicated the large scale CRT glass recycling that takes place in the city. CRT glass recycling is rather challenging, given its high content of lead. It would be interesting to see if the glass industry of Firozabad has found a way to recycle CRT glass safely or are there dangers lurking in the pretty glass bangles?