Waste Scavengers


It’s hard to imagine how scavengers removing 15,000 horse carcasses from NYC streets in the late 1800s could create a controversy or be fined.  From the 1850s until the 1930s, the carcasses of dead horses and other animals from New York City streets were taken to rendering plants surrounding Dead Horse Bay by Floyd Bennett Airfield to become glue, fertilizer and other products.   As sad as this is, it sounds like a legitimate service to me due to the obvious repulsiveness.  http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/dead-horse-bay

Modern Municipal recycling programs, however, want to control and sell recycled items to recover some of the huge expense of managing our waste.  So what does this mean for today’s scavengers who collect and sell our recyclables?

A $2000 fine is set for disturbing, removing, or transporting by motor vehicle any amount of recyclable material (placed out at curbside) for collection or removal by the DSNY.  The law seems to exempt people who scavenge with bags or carts.  http://www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/downloads/pdf/rules/digest/DSNY_Rules_Reg.pdf

There are up to 64 million scavengers in the world today. Despite these numbers, we know little about the impact of scavenging on global capitalism and development.  The World’s Scavengers: Salvaging for Sustainable Consumption and Production by Martin Medina alters popular perceptions about scavenging.  He demonstrates that many widely held beliefs are wrong such as; scavenging is not primarily the activity of the poor nor is it a strictly marginal activity.  The economic impact of scavenging can increase industrial competitiveness and be compatible with a sustainable waste management system.  Scavengers’ contributions should be recognized and understood as they represent an adaptive response to poverty, (a service in itself) and could be seen as an addition to a city’s resources.   http://www.amazon.com/The-Worlds-Scavengers-Sustainable-Globalization/dp/0759109419

In Brazil, for example, Pimp My Carroça is a project by “Artivist”,  Mundano, that gives visibility to recyclable material collectors by transforming their carts through art and raising their self esteem.  It is a collaborative action that uses humorous graffiti and poignant messages to promote interaction between the collectors and the society.

“When the carrocas are new and colorful, with funny messages, people started to interact,” Mundano says. “One day they are completely invisible and the next day people are like, ‘Whoa! Nice cart, can I take a picture?'”

A waste picker wheels a trash cart with Mundano's art and spreads the word: "My cart doesn't pollute." i

A waste picker, (catadores in Portuguese)  wheels a trash cart (carroca in Portuguese) with Mundano’s art and spreads the word: “My cart doesn’t pollute.”

Mundano shared his project at the TEDGlobal Conference in October.    https://www.ted.com/talks/mundano_pimp_my_trash_cart?language=en

“I can’t imagine Sao Paulo without their work,”  Mundano exclaims. They are “invisible superheroes.”  One third of Brazil’s trash gets diverted from landfills by waste scavengers,  according to the Brazilian recycling organization, Cempre.

Martin Medina adds that Brazil’s federal government actually hires some groups of scavengers.  But local authorities are slow — sometimes even unwilling — to embrace the catadores.  They often fail to see that these people not only clean up the streets but can save the country billions of dollars by recycling materials that would otherwise be thrown away and put in landfills.

Trash pickers collect 90 percent of waste that gets recycled in Brazil yet local governments give them little support. The message on this cart: "One catadore does more than an environmental minister."

The message on this cart: “One catadore does more than an environmental minister.”

Mundano hopes the next step is for residents to ask the waste pickers to stop by and collect recyclable materials from their homes.

Back in NYC, Brokelyn writers, Tim Donnelly and Conal Darcy, set out to discover how much money  could be made collecting the bottles and cans that our law (The Bottle Bill) requires stores to take back for deposits.  http://brokelyn.com/how-much-can-you-make-collecting-cans-and-bottles/     They suggest that waste pickers have become an important part of the New York ecosystem siting that New York State alone chugs through 2.5 billion bottles a year or the equivalent of enough bottles to reach the moon, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.    “A lot of those bottles they’re collecting come from trash cans, not recycling cans. So the bottle collectors are the only thing preventing those one-use plastic containers from eternal landfill damnation (which is the fate of about about 30 million single-use containers every day).”

Based on average earnings of two trips, 9/2 and 10/21, in a best-case scenario where redemption machines were not full and actually functioned, Tim and Conal came up with this great chart!

1 can Simpler Times beer (plus tax and bottle deposit) $.79 16 9 minutes
1 packet Ramen noodles $.39 8 4.5 minutes
Falafel (Sahadi’s) $3 60 33 minutes
Movie matinee (Kent Theater) $5 100 55 minutes
Colt 45 (40 oz) $2.75 55 31 minutes
1 night in NY Loft Hostel (Bushwick) $40 800 7.5 hours
1 year of Law school (Brooklyn Law) $44,000 880,000 8,148 hours (339 days)
Cigarettes $11 220 2 hours
Used bike (Schwinn, via Craigslist) $75 1,500 14 hours
iPad (16 GB) $499 9,980 92.5 hours

How You Can Help:

  • Set aside bottles and cans in separate bags so scavengers don’t have to pick through your goopy garbage.
  • A washed bottle or can is so much more pleasant to handle.
  • You pay $ for the bottle or can to get recycled.  You are a big part of making sure it gets through its entire lifecycle.
  • A friendly nod or acknowledgement could make a working person feel so much better.
  • Check out how much better Dead Horse Bay looks today than it has in the past.  Some things have improved!  It is now part of Gateway National Recreation Area with a golf course and trails.

Until next week,

Garbage Girl


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