Karachi produces 12,000 tonnes of garbage every day. The city, however, has an active recycling system in place, thanks to an army of rag pickers, led by Nargis Latif, who hunt for garbage and convert it into profitable business.
Nargis runs Gul Bahao (flow the flowers), a social enterprise based out of Karachi that uses garbage to create houses, water reservoirs, fodder for livestock, and instant compost. Inspired by James Watt’s steam engine, Gul Bahao believes the next industrial revolution will come through simple and affordable technologies that address the problem of waste management. “Gul bahao is engineering a technological revolution on the same lines,” she told Dawn.
One of their miraculous creations is the Chandi Ghar, a house made of recycled waste. Built for the first time during the 2005 earthquake as shelter, today Gul Bahao has built more than 150 Chandi Ghars across Pakistan. These houses have been found to be extremely useful for the nomads living in Pakistan’s Tharparkar district, who suffer from poverty, lack of rainfall, and limited water supply.
Nargis’ life, however, has not been easy. Gul Bahao once employed 70 kabadi wallas, a number that has now fallen to just seven, as running the organisation has become a serious challenge. “Nobody is willing to give us funds because nobody thinks highly of research here,” Nargis told Al Jazeera in an interview.
Convincing people to stay in Chandi Ghars is difficult too. “People say this is made from garbage, and we don’t want to live in or sit on garbage. But this is clean material, especially the plastic. It’s difficult to remove that thinking and perception,” she added.