The Garbage Cafe in Ambikapur, India offers an innovative solution to tackle the city’s plastic waste problem and to give a meal to those in need. If you bring in half a kilo of plastic waste, you would be able to enjoy a hot meal. 

Most Indian cities struggle with their recycling regimes with high amounts of unsegregated waste. As a result, waste management remains ineffective across the nation. While the country generates 25,000 tons of waste per day, only 14,000 tons are collected.

The collected plastic from the Garbage Cafe will be used to construct roads. In 2015, the Ambikapur government completed the construction of an entire road out of plastic, and interestingly, the road has lasted well, even through the heavy monsoon season. 

Read the full article on The Guardian: From rubbish to rice: the cafe that gives food in exchange for plastic


Other Indian cities, like New Delhi, are keen to emulate the success of the Garbage Cafe. The cafe is seen as presenting a two-pronged approach of both managing waste as well as feeding the poor, which further incentivises them to collect more trash. 

The social enterprise is also sustainable since it is not subsidised by the government and  it funds itself. Ambikapur generates about 1.2 million rupees a month selling plastic and recycled paper to private companies. The Garbage Cafe is thus not strictly a charity, but a non-profit organization with a social purpose. 

Notwithstanding the Garbage Cafe’s success, India’s problem with environmental waste requires other measures as well. For instance, 70% of the plastic in Ambikapur are single-use and cannot be recycled. They end up in either landfills or clogging up drains. Thus, the city would also have to ban such single-use plastics. 

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. Do you think the Garbage Cafe would work as well in Singapore? Why or why not? 
  2. Do you think that Singapore’s recycling system is adequate? Why or why not? 

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘emulate’: match or surpass (a person or achievement), typically by imitation
  2. ‘segregation’: the action or state of setting someone or something apart from other people or things