The good, the bad and the ugly?
Blogger and social critic Gerry Popplestone recently commented on the current state of waste, recycling and reuse from a consumer's perspective. He gives a few examples from the developing world, including a great example of passive integrated waste "management" in Brazil where the scavengers work so effectively that the people have no concern about littering, don't sort their garbage and yet they have one of the highest rates of aluminum can recycling thanks to "homeless" scavengers. These collectors can make a decent living at collecting cans, the author citing an AP press article from January 3, 2000, he writes about one case where the scavenger makes almost twice the median wage in Brazil ($260/week compared to $140).
In an older article on scavengers, he questions the sensationalism around scavenging, including statistics inflation by NGOs seeking funding and resources. The author asserts that formal waste collectors no longer have an adversarial relationship with scavengers, and view them as useful contributions to the process of waste management. Oh, how I wish it were true! He read Wilson, Whiteman & Tormin, and also some of Medina's articles, but apparently didn't see where Medina classifies the four levels of municipal response to scavengers, only one of which is supportive! In many places scavengers are exploited, or worse, repressed by those in power, whether the municipality or the private sector (with the muni turning a blind eye).
He refers to the sa leng system of informal collectors in Bangkok. Quoting a World Bank study, 70% of Bangkok's wastes are collected by a combination of both formal and informal sector workers. It doesn't say how much money the muni saves by not paying the informal workers but it does say a muni collector makes about 700 baht/day ($19) and there are approximately 15,000 sa leng plus 4,000 scavengers, which would come out to a savings of US $361,000 per day! Many articles, including this one, do not stress this enough. Not only are the scavengers providing a public good (public health) in the form of collecting wastes, and also an environmental good by reducing the waste , but they are also saving the municipality a lot of money in collection, transport and disposal costs.