The Heap
Picked Over

Picked Over

Photo copyright Enrico Fabian.There’s a great op-ed in the New York Times this week by Bharati Chaturvedi that looks at how the collapse in recylables markets has impacted those at the far end of the recycling food chain. Trash pickers, or as the author defines them, “sorters, traders and reprocessors who extricate paper, cardboard and plastics from garbage heaps and prepare them for reuse,” live essentially hand-to-mouth and have been devastated by the wallop to their livelihood. While many waste-handling companies and recycling processors are feeling an impact on their bottom line, these people lose their only source of income and support.

This is not a crisis limited to third-world countries and slums. Every urban area supports (and is supported by) trash pickers. Chaturvedi suggests government subsidies to keep recycling going in lean times along with some sort of federal registration so that these people don't fall through the cracks. But both ideas strike me as wishful thinking. What can be done?