Do you know that some people live on other people’s garbage by recycling contents like metal, glass, paper and plastic? Have you ever seen such a person carrying all those contents in a huge hopsack bag on two wheels with two long sticks?
Those people are waste-pickers; the most important components of the recycling process in Turkish cities. They salvage the reusable or recyclable materials thrown away by households to sell for their own living; simultaneously saving millions of materials and benefiting the Turkish economy. In other words, waste pickers are benign dissociative elements that turn the linear production-consumption-waste system into a closed loop by recycling the goods.
Waste pickers are investigated by two architects, Erdem Üngür and Işık Gülkaynak. According to their report, there are approximately 200,000 waste pickers in Turkey, of which, 100,000 of them live in Istanbul. They are usually lower-class families or immigrants; consist of mostly male of varying age groups, living nearby the upper-class neighborhoods where they can find valuable garbage.
Research emerges other problems too; for example the legal possessor of garbage is unknown in Turkey. Sometimes the municipality breaks into the depots of waste pickers and levies the garbage from them. Then who is the invasive; waste pickers picking garbage from bins and bringing it to their private depots, or municipal officials who swoop down on their depots? Is garbage taken from a rubbish-bin described as “stolen?” If so, then whoever picks up an aluminum can and brings it to a recycling station might be accused by doing an illegal action. Erdem and Işık’s investigation continues with the fact that municipalities want to provide legal working conditions for waste pickers, while waste pickers insist on working freelance because of the flexibility of working hours and income.
The problem of ‘off-the-record’ workers will never end unless the habit of recycling garbage is spread among households and properly dispatched to recycling stations by the municipalities. Will there be alternative jobs for the current waste pickers? They will definitely need and find one.
Credits: Image and data linked to sources.