Waste picker

A waste picker, or a scavenger, is a person who picks out recyclable elements from mixed waste wherever it may be temporarily accessible or disposed of . A person who scavenges for junk, food, materials, or other items is also referred to as a scavenger. Waste pickers may be employed in material recovery facilities or mechanical biological treatment systems to manually recover recyclables as opposed to automated systems.

In developing countries waste pickers may seek the financial value of the recyclable elements themselves to sell on or use.


Take what man makes and use it,
But do not admire it,
For it shall pass
-Anonymous quote obtained from Time magazine, "Who will rule the New Internet"; June 2008 -
A waste picker is different from a waste collector, the waste collected by the latter may be destined to the landfill or to the incinerator, not necessarily for recycling. Developing nations depend on rag pickers to reduce the waste reaching landfills


Scavenger is an alteration of scavager, from Middle English skawager meaning "customs collector," from skawage meaning "customs," from Old North French escauwage meaning "inspection," from escauwer meaning "to inspect," of Germanic origin; akin to Old English scEawian meaning "to look at", and modern English "show" (with semantic drift).

The word scavenger when being used to refer to human beings has negative connotations, conjuring up images of low-class or poor people who collect junk because they cannot afford the proper materials they need.

However, it need not have this negative connotation. It may also be used to refer to people that scavenge the remains of broken down cars and reuse the parts. A scavenger may be merely your happy-go-lucky junk collector who has a garage full of broken chainsaws and Corrado parts awaiting fix. In this usage, it is not altogether different from its use in a biological or zoological context for an animal's role in the environment, where the word obviously does not carry such connotations.

In different countries/cities

Cairo, Egypt

In Cairo, waste pickers are called "zebaleen". Most of them live in Mokattam, a garbage village on the out-skirts of the city. At present, organisations as APE are helping the zebaleen-community to be more efficient in the collection of the materials and the sale thereof.

Beijing, China

Beijing is home to more than 170,000 waste-pickers, most of whom are migrant workers. These people earn up to US $5 a day and process as much as one third of Beijing's garbage.


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