Ragpicker, or chiffonnier, is a term for someone who makes a living by rummaging through refuse in the streets to collect material for salvage. Scraps of cloth and paper could be turned into cardboard, broken glass could be melted down and reused, and even dead cats and dogs could be skinned to make clothes.
The ragpickers (rag and bone man) in 19th and early 20th Century did not recycle the materials themselves; they would simply collect whatever they could find and turn it over to a "master ragpicker" (usually a former ragpicker) who would, in turn, sell it—generally by weight—to wealthy investors with the means to convert the materials into something more profitable.
Although it was solely a job for the lowest of the working classes, ragpicking was considered an honest occupation, more on the level of street sweeper than of a beggar. In Paris, for instance, ragpickers were regulated by law: their operations were restricted to certain times of night, and they were required to return any unusually valuable items to the owner or to the authorities. When Eugène Poubelle introduced the garbage can in 1884, he was criticized in the French newspapers for meddling with the ragpickers' livelihoods. Modern sanitation and recycling programs ultimately caused the profession to decline, though it did not disappear entirely; rag and bone men were still operating in the 1970s.
Ragpicking is still widespread in Third World countries today, such as in Mumbai, India, where it offers the poorest in society around the rubbish and recycling areas a chance to earn a hand-to-mouth supply of money. In 2015, the Environment Minister of India declared a national award to recognise the service rendered by ragpickers. The award, with a cash prize of Rs. 1.5 lakh, is for three best rag pickers and three associations involved in innovation of best practices.
The practice of Karang guni is common in Singapore. Its practitioners are a modern form of rag and bone men that visit residences door-to-door. They can either walk along corridors (if that particular HDB estate has a covered carpark) or for certain HDB estates where the carpark is right under the HDB blocks, walk through the carpark downstairs honking a horn. However, around landed properties, they may drive around in a lorry with a horn attached to it, instead of going door-to-door. They make visits in carts, collecting old newspapers and other unwanted items. These will be resold at specialized markets and eventually recycled or reused. "Karang guni" is a Malay phrase for gunny sack, which was used in the past to hold the newspapers. The Karang guni men would haul the heavy sacks on their backs as they walked their rounds to do the collection. Today, most of them use a hand truck instead.
Dumpster diving (also totting, skipping, skip diving or skip salvage,) is salvaging from large commercial, residential, industrial and construction containers for unused items discarded by their owners, but deemed useful to the picker. It is not confined to dumpsters and skips specifically, and may cover standard household waste containers, curb sides, landfills or small dumps.
Different terms are used to refer to different forms of this activity. For picking materials from the curbside trash collection, expressions such as curb shopping, trash picking or street scavenging are sometimes used. When seeking primarily metal to be recycled, one is scrapping. When picking the leftover food from farming left in the fields one is gleaning.
People dumpster dive for items such as clothing, furniture, food, and similar items in good working condition. Some people do this out of necessity due to poverty, others for ideological reasons, while still others do so professionally and systematically for profit.
The Zabbaleen (Egyptian Arabic: زبالين Zabbalīn, IPA: [zæbbæˈliːn]) is a word which literally means "garbage people" in Egyptian Arabic. The contemporary use of the word in Egyptian Arabic is to mean "garbage collectors". In cultural contexts, the word refers to teenagers and adults who have served as Cairo's informal garbage collectors since approximately the 1940s. The Zabbaleen (singular: زبال Zabbāl, [zæbˈbæːl]) are also known as Zarraba (singular: Zarrab), which means "pig-pen operators." The word Zabbalīn came from the Egyptian Arabic word zebāla ([zeˈbæːlæ], زبالة) which means "garbage".
A rag-and-bone man or ragpicker (UK English) or ragman, old-clothesman, junkman, or junk dealer (US English), also called a bone-grubber, bone-picker, rag-gatherer, bag board, or totter, collects unwanted household items and sells them to merchants. Traditionally this was a task performed on foot, with the scavenged materials (which included rags, bones and various metals) kept in a small bag slung over the shoulder. Some rag-and-bone men used a cart, sometimes pulled by a horse or pony.
In the 19th century, rag-and-bone men typically lived in extreme poverty, surviving on the proceeds of what they collected each day. Conditions improved following the Second World War, but the trade declined during the latter half of the 20th century. However, in more recent years, partly as the result of the soaring price of scrap metal, rag-and-bone-style collection continues, particularly in the developing world.
The chatarreros are Barcelona’s itinerant scrap-metal collectors, and there are thousands of them. Most are undocumented migrants and so there is no official census, but Federico Demaria, a social scientist at the University of Barcelona who is conducting a study of the informal recyclers in Catalonia, believes there are between 50,000 and 100,000 in the region. About half are from sub-Saharan Africa; the rest are from eastern Europe, elsewhere in Africa and Spain.
A waste picker is a person who salvages reusable or recyclable materials thrown away by others to sell or for personal consumption. There are millions of waste pickers worldwide, predominantly in developing countries, but increasingly in post-industrial countries as well.
Forms of waste picking have been practiced since antiquity, but modern traditions of waste picking took root during industrialization in the nineteenth century. Over the past half-century, waste picking has expanded vastly in the developing world due to urbanization, toxic colonialism and the global waste trade. Many cities only provide solid waste collection.
In Brazil, "catadores" collect junk and recyclables. But while they provide a vital service that benefits all, they are nearly invisible as they roam the streets. Enter graffiti artist Mundano, a TED Fellow. In a spirited talk, he describes his project "Pimp My Carroça," which has transformed these heroic workers' carts into things of beauty and infused them with a sense of humor. It's a movement that is going global.
From satellite graveyards to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, GEO—DESIGN: Junk. explores global systems of discarded things and their new realities and potentialities. This city-wide exhibition, produced in collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum, showcases 18 projects by DAE alumni.
With strikingly different approaches to design and research, the exhibition traverses landfills, uncovers the ghosts of dead digital communities and discovers new ecosystems and economies built on detritus. It looks at junk as a microcosm, as an economic barometer that can reveal realities of consumption and production, and as a subject of intercontinental diplomacy.
The installation Chiefs of Waste, by Shay Raviv and Dorota Gazy from STBY, presents a global investigation delving into the ever-changing worlds of waste pickers in Mexico City and Bangalore, uncovering the networks, actors and structures that span the blurry lines between formal and informal systems. The exhibition is on show during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven from 19 October until 27 October 2019.
The collectors collect about 90% of everything that is recycled in Brazil. Self-employed workers are the basis of the pyramid of an unregulated and unrecognized sector.
They survive by selling what they collect. Plastic and cardboard, for example, are worth about R$0.20/Kg (USD 0.04/Kg), and the glass about R$0.05/Kg (1c USD/Kg).