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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urban waste picking in low-income countries: knowledge and action Gauley, Steven W.


A significant segment of the urban population in many low-income countries derives their living from the harvest of marketable materials from urban waste streams. The activities of so-called "scavengers" or waste pickers in many African, Asian, and Latin American cities have also come to be understood to have environmental benefits: the diversion of materials from the urban waste stream decreases the volume of wastes that need to be collected, transported and disposed of. However, due to their daily contact with garbage, these men, women, and children are usually associated with dirt, disease, and squalor. The work of the scavenger is often conceptualized as being poverty driven and undertaken as a survival strategy or coping mechanism in a harsh urban environment. In recent years, various programs and projects have been developed by nongovernmental organizations, religious institutions, community-based organizations, and local governments to address the needs of scavengers. Such intervention schemes are designed in one way or another to alter the scavengers' existing situations. This study looks at the possible linkages between the evolving understanding of scavenging and the various approaches to intervention that it engenders. This study first examines how scholars and researchers analyze waste picking issues and their suggestions for potential interventions and then relates this understanding to how institutions, citizens, non-governmental organizations, and aid agencies are addressing these issues in practice. It is found that different conceptualizations of waste picking issues have led to different intervention prescriptions, and that the prescribed interventions are motivated by environmental, economic, or humanitarian concerns. This study contends that the recommended and implemented intervention prescriptions are simply promoting market means in an attempt to achieve humanitarian ends, and, therefore, are only short-term measures that will not solve the identified waste picking issues. Data sources used in this effort include academic journals, conference papers, case studies of development programs, newspaper articles, Web sites, and field reports. Data were also obtained by contacting researchers and organizations that have studied or are currently working with waste pickers in a variety of geographical settings.

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