A Scrap of Decency – Bharati Chaturvedi Op-Ed in the New York Times

Synergos Senior Fellow Bharati Chaturvedi, Founder and Director of the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group in India, wrote an opinion piece in the August 4, 2009 issue of The New York Times about urban scrap collectors and how governments and societies should integrate them into the formal economy:

Among those suffering from the global recession are millions of workers who are not even included in the official statistics: urban recyclers – the trash pickers, sorters, traders and reprocessors who extricate paper, cardboard and plastics from garbage heaps and prepare them for reuse. Their work is both unrecorded and largely unrecognized, even though in some parts of the world they handle as much as 20 percent of all waste.

The world’s 15 million informal recyclers clean up cities, prevent some trash from ending in landfills, and even reduce climate change by saving energy on waste disposal techniques like incineration.

They also recycle waste much more cheaply and efficiently than governments or corporations can, and in many cities in the developing world, they provide the only recycling services.

But as housing values and the cost of oil have fallen worldwide, so too has the price of scrap metal, paper and plastic. From India to Brazil to the Philippines, recyclers are experiencing a precipitous drop in income. Trash pickers and scrap dealers in Minas Gerais State in Brazil, for example, saw a decline of as much as 80 percent in the price of old magazines and 81 percent for newspapers, and a 77 percent drop in the price of cardboard from October 2007 to last December.

Read full opinion piece.