May 25 2012

Human Capital for Recycling: Waste Pickers in Istanbul, Turkey

waste picker in Istanbul

Source: Ali Saltan

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.

cardboard recyclingResearch 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.

Nazlı Ödevci

Nazlı Ödevci is a recent graduate of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden with an M.Sc. in Design for Sustainable Development in Architecture. She holds a B.S. in Architecture from Istanbul Technical University in Istanbul, Turkey. Currently, Nazlı is working as an environmental specialist and LEED Green Associate in design phase of architectural projects in Turkey. She defines herself as a green design oriented urban & architectural intervention practitioner. She is currently residing in Istanbul but has strong connections to Swedish sustainable design practice.

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 25th, 2012 at 5:57 am and is filed under Content, Energy, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, Government/Politics, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “Human Capital for Recycling: Waste Pickers in Istanbul, Turkey”

  1. Jordan Says:

    I remember seeing waste pickers while visiting Turkey last year. Labelling their collection of recyclables as theft reminds me of the position of so-called dumpster divers in North America, who pull cans and bottles from public trash cans. For the most part I think they are left alone here, as the majority of them are homeless individuals who benefit from the extra income.

    Overall, I believe that the informal employment sector forms a vital part of urban systems. Those who run the systems are often too caught up in legal issues, standardization, and taxation to see the benefit of a loose hold.

  2. Nazlı Ödevci Says:

    Hi Jordan. Thank you for your valuable comments. I totally agree with you about the vital importance of informal employment. To me these people are the benign components of urban systems; like a useful germ in a body, which help to dissolve food and keep the system in balance.
    It is interesting to hear other waste pickers from the other side of the world. So please share information with us if you have seen “dumpster divers” anywhere else in the world.

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