Scavengers are Environmental Heroes!


Helping save the earth through scavenging

When you hear the term "scavenger", what springs to mind?

Back in the days before recycling, I remember taking trips with my Dad to the local garbage tip and seeing so many cool things in among the refuse. 

There would be people digging through these piles - scavengers looking for items to sell or use. To me it looked like great fun, but the general perception of scavengers back then weren't very positive and most used to look down their noses at these people - some of that prejudice rubbed off onto me too.

Back then, tip authorities used to turn a blind eye to the practice, but these days it's banned and in most tips, enforced. 

However, there's also a lot more control over what goes into landfill in Australia now and recycling stations are set up at landfills to try and reduce what winds up as buried trash. Landfill operators have learned that there's big bucks to be made from rubbish.

I was thinking about these scavengers the other day and realised they were/are environmental pioneers and heroes of sorts; regardless of their motivation for scavenging. 

The millions of career and part-time scavengers around the world must prevent a mind boggling amount of stuff from winding up as landfill.

I was also reminded about the importance of scavenging when reading about the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games. In an effort to "clean up" the city for foreign eyes, the Indian government has been moving scavengers out of the area. 

It's a little counterproductive as these people perform an incredibly important task and would be needed to clean up after the hordes descending on the city. Additionally, this scavenging provides the only income for many of Dalit caste, India's poorest in terms of income and literacy. 

It's a shame that the term "scavenging" is still so closely tied to poverty and something beneath us. However, there are many people who have made fortunes through scavenging; but it's just given another name. For example, recycling plants operations where we take our trash directly to the scavenger!

While scavenging isn't all that prevalent in landfills in places like Australia, the USA and Canada - these folks are still out there, fighting the fine fight.

The other day a neighbour put out a couple of chairs with a sign saying "Free". By the afternoon, they were gone - the chairs had been quietly whisked away.

On what's called "hard rubbish" days in South Australia, the scavengers usually precede the council pickup trucks; scooping up whatever treasures are to be had.

Unfortunately, scavenging has also received somewhat of a bad name due to the way some individuals go about it - pulling stuff out of boxes and creating quite a mess. 

"Career" scavengers tend to be more respectful; knowing that by being tidy and quiet in their pursuit can mean more opportunities from the same source at a later date.

Even the homeless in our cities who go through bins perform an important job. The cans and bottles they pull out means more room in the bins, which translates to less pickups and less recyclable material going to landfill. 

Yet we tend to look down upon them doing this.

Scavenging isn't confined to goods, it can also be food. I remember the amount of food we used to throw out each day at our bakery was terrible and we would have welcomed someone taking it; as health regulations prevented us giving it to local charities.

Food scavenging doesn't necessarily meant dumpster diving. Urban foraging is becoming more popular - this is where the bounty of fruit trees and other plants that grow in public areas doesn't go to waste.

To learn more about the fascinating world of scavenging and the mindset of scavengers, check out these articles:

What is a Freegan?
The Scavengers Manifesto
Foraging for Fruit

Michael Bloch
Green Living

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