The New York Times has published two excellent articles recently on waste pickers and their contribution to the environment and society.
Upon a Hill of Scraps: Surviving on Scavenging in Iraq by John Leland, examines the economic, social and physical difficulties associated with waste picking in Baghdad and the challenges of living in slums such as Naser City, where many waste pickers live illegally ("the land is free but illegal"). The article provides some interesting insight into the perspective of policy makers - from the governor Salah Abdul-Razzaq who states somewhat resignedly “Those people need to pick up garbage because there are no chances to work,” - to the mayor Saber al-Essawy, who plans on making changes to waste pick-ups to deter waste pickers and who states “In the future, those people will have to find jobs. That’s what we want, because they are a bad mark on our society.”
In Indian Scavengers Doing What Officials Can't, Akash Kapur discusses the issue of India and garbage, more specifically how waste pickers and waste workers in the informal economy offer a solution for to the India's rising tide of garbage. "... the scale of India’s waste problems is such that the country needs every bit of help it can get. With its decades of expertise, with its existing networks of waste collectors and recyclers, the informal sector is a key partner in alleviating what is shaping up to be one of the country’s biggest environmental challenges."
Reading both articles, many issues come to mind - how society treats waste pickers, how municipalities and policy makers often undervalue the contribution of waste pickers (and see "modern" waste collection methods as superior) and how little power informal workers have in influencing the policy decisions that effect them and their livelihoods.
New York Times - thanks for the attention to the plight of waste pickers world wide. But just one issue - waste pickers aren't scavengers - they are people who make an enormous contribution to the environment and society - please try to be a bit more sensitive when referring to waste pickers in future articles.