A still from a video about trash pickers in Turkey. Image: 'Turkey's Changemakers'
Before there were municipal sanitation workers emptying dumpsters into their big blue trucks, other garbage men gathered trash in Istanbul neighborhoods, picking out scraps of paper or empty bottles to resell. Those that continue plying their trade today, trudging up and down the city's hills towing their gleanings in hand-pulled carts, are part of a worldwide fraternity of waste-pickers who are increasingly calling for their environmental contributions to be recognized."We are in the first part in the chain; we are the solution for waste management. First is to prevent garbage production, then come reduce and recycle, and, finally, disposal," Ezequiel Estay, the head of Chile's National Movement of Recyclers, told the environmental news platform TerraViva, part of IPS News group of publications.
15 Million Waste-Pickers
Estay and other members of the Latin American Recyclers' Network traveled to the COP 16 climate-change conference in Cancún to express their concerns about measures that give developing countries incentives for building incinerators and capturing greenhouse gases at landfills rather than encouraging the work of the world's estimated 15 million waste-pickers.
"There are no public policies that recognize the recyclers' social and environmental contributions," Silvio Ruiz of Colombia's National Association of Recyclers told TerraViva. The recyclers' groups cite a United Nations Environment Programme report presented in Cancún that says recycling is second only to waste prevention in providing "the highest climate benefit compared to other waste-management approaches."
Turkish Recycling Workers Organize For Their Rights
In Turkey, Ali Medillioğlu is fighting a similarly uphill battle to win recognition and rights for his fellow garbage collectors, who work long days to earn just 50 to 100 Turkish Liras a week (about $35-$75). Recently profiled by the television program "Turkey's Changemakers," Medillioğlu was downbeat about the effect of the efforts of his Recycling Workers Association, which produces a low-budget magazine that gives largely invisible trash collectors a way to express themselves and raise awareness about their plight.
But with official recycling still lagging badly, Turkey -- and many other countries as well -- could create a win-win situation by following the lead of Entity Green Training in Amman, Jordan, which works to increase employment opportunities and profit margins for people who make their living as scavengers while creating new markets for recyclable materials.
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