TM, Trash ‘Mafia’ and Lack of Responsibility

 Waste pickers put their lives at risk by diving into unsanitary trash bins. Waste pickers put their lives at risk by diving into unsanitary trash bins.

People all over Iran have long witnessed waste pickers going around cities carrying huge, filthy bags on their backs, diving in bins to salvage whatever they can sell or reuse.

Though dirty, it is a well-paid job for bin divers and a lucrative business for those who run the show behind the scenes.

Urban waste pickers operate legally in the developed world as their activities are monitored and their contribution to urban sanitation and lowering municipal costs cannot be denied. In fact, in 2008, they held the First World Conference on Waste Pickers in Bogota, Colombia, to facilitate global networking. The term “waste picker” was adopted then.

However, waste picking is not at all monitored in Iran, allowing few people to run the business behind the scenes without dirtying their own hands. Officials have often expressed concern and sometimes laid out plans to tackle the problem. All words, no action.

Acknowledging the problem, Mohammad Javad Haqshenas, member of the Tehran City Council, told Ensafnews that “mafias” operating in the shadows employ young children to do their bidding.

Last week, Mozafar Alvandi, secretary of the National Body on the Convention of the Rights of the Child, revealed that waste pickers— 60% of whom  ostensibly are refugee children — have special cards issued by Tehran Municipality which allow them to search the trash bins!

The cards, which surprisingly bear the stamp of TM, cost the holder 3 million rials (about $78.5) per month.

This shocking statement means that city officials are not only aware of the hands behind the scenes, but also their activities, despite touting measures to tackle the problem.

However, whenever the matter is brought up, TM absolves itself of any responsibility and blames contractors. Assuming city officials are right and there are contractors with no direct link to municipalities, another question comes up: Aren’t municipalities and local councils responsible for collecting and segregating waste in the first place? Or, should contractors not be monitored?

Waste pickers, young and old, put their lives at risk by working in unsanitary environments and are deprived of a normal life so that a handful of greedy people line their pockets.

Those who misuse children, whether contractors or municipal officials, must be stopped. For that to happen, legislators must reform a law that allows children to work only in workshops with fewer than 10 employees. This legal loophole must be redressed to prevent the mafias and culprits from justifying their actions and promoting child labor.

Addressing the problem is integral to the prosperity of the country; failure to do so will not only continue to expose the poor waste pickers to health hazards, but will also impose heavy medical costs on the government.


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