Thursday 2 September 2010


Our annual inorganic rubbish collection is under way, when householders put out all sorts of things for the council to pick up that are normally forbidden: old beds, broken appliances, rusty wheelbarrows, indeterminate crap that's too big to fit in the bin. It makes the daily walk round the streets absolutely fascinating, as well as much longer, because of the pauses at each heap of reject stuff, and the internal tussles over whether something is worth appropriating or not.

Time was, such scavenging was a shameful thing, but now it's called recycling and is entirely admirable. Hordes of white vans cruise the streets, the drivers blatantly picking over the piles for things good enough to use, sell as is, or take to the scrap yard for money; so when the rubbish truck eventually comes along, the heaps are usually much reduced. Everybody wins.

Though most stuff is unquestionable rubbish, it's surprising sometimes to see how profligate some people are, chucking out clearly good stuff - but even more astonishing is the pile in the photo. A teddy bear! Even decapitated, what sort of hard-hearted, ruthless type could throw that away? And possibly even worse, but not visible above, there was a wedding photo - black and white, from the fifties, presumably the house-holder's parents. Whoever heard of such a thing?

The scavengers though reminded me of a report I read in the paper when I was in India, about an 8 year-old girl who'd been assaulted, and the police enquiry into it. What struck me was that she was described as 'a rag-picker'. In other words, one of those who spend their days at rubbish tips, combing the mountains of stinking, dirty refuse for anything that can be recycled, to sell. Eight years old. 'A rag-picker'.

I haven't got any photos of the very poor people we saw there - it seemed too predatory. But this lady is recycling with a vengeance: collecting cow dung, patting it out into discs to dry in the sun, for fuel.

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