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November 17, 2019

The life of waste collector


November 17, 2019

The words hunger, poverty and unease seem almost inseparable for waste collectors. There is no other side to their story. Just take a peep into the life of the waste collectors who earn their livelihood by collecting waste from the dustbins.

“Our day begins early in the morning. We have to start our work, when the sun is up. Once the dustbin becomes full, it becomes almost possible to continue with our work. At night, we don’t work in the quietness of empty streets,” says Abid, a young waste collector, who lives in the vicinity of Railway Colony.

“The world of waste collectors is full of uncertainties. Whether we will get our share of saleable material is a matter of chance. Sometimes, the person who comes early has to return empty-handed while the latecomers end up with a saleable material,” says Amjad.

“Rummaging through the dirty dustbins is not an easy job. As every kind of refuse finds its way into them, the task of saleable material sifting becomes difficult. Sometimes, when I put my hands into the dustbins filled with filth, I feel like nauseating. But such feelings are just fleeting. Waste collecting has been my source of livelihood for the past 20 years,” says Razi.

Amanat says: “The waste collectors frequently suffer from skin disorders. Chafed and broken skin is the most common ailment. As we use our hands to isolate saleable material from filth, our skin often shows symptoms of skin disease. But we dismiss it as a professional hazard.”

“During winter, the going gets tough. Sometimes, the dustbins have glass splinters and nails that pierce our skin and the cold weather accentuates our pain. Tetanus injection after every six months becomes mandatory for us,” says Sabir.

“An interesting question that arises is how glass pieces and nails find their way into the dustbins. Bits of glass and nails get stuck up in the waste of dustbin as reckless households mix them up in the waste bags without caring that they may hurt someone. When we pick up these bags, bits of glass and nails harm our hands,” adds Sabir.

“Waste collecting is becoming less lucrative day by day as families are showing increasing preference for selling the profitable material themselves. Most of the waste is picked up by Rawalpindi Waste Management Company (RWMC) vans that leaves nothing for us to pick up and sell. Thus, the number of private waste collectors is dwindling,” says Asad.

Safdar says: “But for the waste collectors like me, who have been engaged in this work for years together, not many options are open. Being an aged waste collector, I will not like my children to take up this work.”

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