Gap in giveaways and disposal

There is a gap in the market between second hand sales and garbage disposal, and I’m not sure what’s a good way to address it.

These are things that you own that might be useful for someone, but you don’t know who it might be useful for. If one such person is located, you are willing to give the stuff away for free, but you don’t want to make any effort or spend anything to dispose it.

The part of London I used to live in had evolved a simple way of achieving this – people would simply leave stuff out in their front yards very close to the footpath (the compounds didn’t have gates). People walking past were free to pick up whatever they wanted, and after things had been left out for a sufficient period of time, the council would be called and they would pick it up as “garbage”.

Unfortunately when I moved out of London earlier this year, the house we were living in was on the main road (right next to Ealing Broadway station), and this method of disposal of unwanted things wasn’t available to us. And we had to incur significant cost to dispose of some of our stuff.

The wife put up some of them on the UK equivalent of OLX, and managed to sell off a lot of our stuff for not very high amounts (though I think we got more for our mixie than what we’d paid for it 10 years ago). We made money, yes, but it possibly wasn’t significant enough to cover the cost of my wife’s time.

And then there were the books – there were no second hand bookshops available that would pay anything reasonable for the books. So I had to actually cart all the books to the local Oxfam centre to be given away to charity (apart from stuff friends picked up).

Clothes, similarly, had to be dropped off at a charity centre (there was a Cancer Research UK shop right across the road from our house, so that helped). Again, I don’t know if everything we left there was used, but that was the lowest cost way for us to dispose of them.

Coming back, this gap in the market exists in India as well. The market is a bit better here because you have house cleaners and cooks and drivers you interact with on a regular basis, who are happy to take your unwanted stuff off you and dispose it. The problem is that they are picky on what they take and dispose – they have transaction costs, just like us, and don’t want to take on stuff that they will find it hard to move on.

And what makes matters worse is that even putting it in the trash is not a proper solution here – the municipal trash collectors ask for a bribe to take these things off you!

In some sense, this is a classic market design problem – where the transaction cost of the sale overwhelms the value of items being bought and sold. The things we want to dispose of have value to someone, for which they might be willing to pay, but the costs of finding these people are so high that you end up paying to dispose them.

Basically what we need is a service where someone comes and picks up all your “semi-trash”, sorts through it to find stuff that might be useful for someone else and then transfer it to markets where it can reach people who want it. And things that aren’t useful to anyone will go into garbage.

The problem with this service is that there is a natural upper bound on what people will be willing to pay for this service – zero. And when you factor in the market for lemons here (people might use this to dispose of absolute garbage rather than semi-trash that might be useful for someone), you know why “solution doesn’t exist”.

Dogs of Jayanagar

Fifteenth Cross is a fairly important road in Jayanagar. A rather wide, and widely used, road, it has two other names – “South End Main Road” and “Nittoor Sreenivasa Rao Road” (you must hear the Google Maps navigator pronounce the latter).

Fifteenth Cross is also an important “boundary road”, in more than one way. The part of Jayanagar to the North of it is part of the “Jayanagar” ward in the metropolitan corporation (BBMP), and part of the Chickpet Assembly constituency. The part to the south of Fifteenth Cross belongs to the Yediyur BBMP Ward, and part of the Padmanabhanagar Assembly Constituency.¬†Fifteenth Cross is also a boundary between Jayanagar Second Block (to the North) and Jayanagar Third Block (to the South).

And these are not the only boundaries demarcated by Fifteenth Cross – it marks a frontier of canine territory as well.

Jayanagar Third Block, part of Yediyur Ward, has something that Jayanagar Second Block, part of Jayanagar Ward, lacks – garbage. There is this spot next to a triangle-shaped park, and across the road from an empty site, where people dump their garbage. This is on account of door-to-door garbage collection in Jayanagar Third Block not being up to the mark.

Jayanagar Second Block, being part of the generally (seemingly) better administered Jayanagar Ward, lacks such garbage “hotspots”. Thanks to this, stray dogs in that ward looking for a late night (or midnight) snack have nowhere to go. And so they look to cross into Third Block, hoping to find something in its overflowing garbage bins.

The small problem, of course, is that Jayanagar Third Block has its own fair share of stray dogs, most of which have made a home near the garbage dump near the triangle park, across the road from the local mosque (it’s funny that dogs have their home so close to the mosque, considering puritanical Islam considers dogs as being¬†haraam). And they like to guard their territory fiercely.

And so if you live anywhere close to the triangle park and were to get woken up around 2:30 am (which I’ve been for the last week or so), you’ll get to witness this grand canine battle of Jayanagar. The dogs of Second Block trying to make their way to the garbage dump in Third Block, and the Third Block dogs doing their best to scare them away.

From the sounds of it, there is little bite, mostly bark. And from the sights of it, it is interesting how the dogs orient themselves. Each dog positions itself in the middle of a street intersection (most of these in Third Block are rather brightly lit), and facing its adversary, howls. Howls and barks are returned. Other dogs (from both the aggressor and defender parties) join into the cacophony, and soon there is a crescendo.

Not to be left alone, the house dogs in the area join in the party, adding their own barks, though it is unlikely that the street dogs care too much about them – they continue their battle regardless.

This morning, after an hour of tossing and turning, I stepped on to my balcony to survey the scene below. The home team (Third Block dogs) had situated themselves at the intersection closest to my house (Sixteenth Cross), standing abreast and watching quietly. Three dogs from the away team (the raiding party from Second Block) were quietly making their way back across Fifteenth Cross, their raid over, and possibly unsuccessful. The house dog in the house opposite continued to bark, but no one cared about him!

The Third Block dogs stood at the intersection until the raiding party was safely past the Fifteenth Cross boundary, before returning to their business, whatever that is. And the house dog across the road continued to bark.

I don’t understand the strategy of the Third Block dogs. While they control a great amount of garbage, and have access to plenty of food thanks to that, their strategy of defending it through the night doesn’t make sense – for in the morning a BBMP truck visits the garbage spot, and takes it all away.

In other words, the sources of food these dogs guard is a perishable commodity, thanks to which there is little benefit in defending it. They might as well share the loot with their brethren from Second Block without much cost, for what is defended now is gone a few hours later.

But then, maybe they just want to send out a signal. Defending their loot, even if it isn’t valuable to them, might be a way of sending a credible signal that they will defend their territories in the face of any other attack.

Or maybe they’re just being dogs!