Indian Wastepickers Ready to Train New Yorkers!

ACORN ACORN International International Organizing

Los Angeles  Mayor Bloomberg is now adding composting as another key ingredient of his urban-futures program in New York City joining his other major campaigns around smoking in private establishments, too much sugar in sodas, and gun control, and I’m all for it!  The case he has laid out is impeccable. There are savings in landfill capacity that come from sorting out the organic waste.  There is the potential to convert biomass into energy, and they are talking to various folks about building a plant or contracting to have it done. They are joining the in-crowd cities of San Francisco and Seattle, and this in the Mayor’s words is truly one of the last new “frontiers of recycling.”

            Reading comments in the Times from some New York residents indicates that there is not the kind of applause in the streets and the high rises of condos in the big city greeting this news, and even though voluntary now with more than 100,000 signed up, the news from major candidates that the program should be mandatory by 2016 is getting a bit of the Bronx cheer rather than Broadway ovations.   I think we can help though from our experience at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse and ACORN International’s in organizing wastepickers throughout India that specialize in recycling from soup to nuts to metal and plastic.

            At the coffeehouse, it is easy.  We keep all coffee grounds and organic waste for our own and other farming operations in huge, green plastic rolling cans.  Hollygrove Farmers’ market uses some and sells some to area farmers.  The ACORN Farm that is beginning this fall in the Lower 9th Ward of  New Orleans will use as much as we can produce.  All of that is well and good, but our real value added for New York City and elsewhere would be what major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengalaru already do, which is have wastepickers pick up the trash and garbage in the apartment blocks daily, then sort, sell everything of value, and compost the rest in sorting areas right on the streets. 

            The system in India is obviously not a “last frontier” or very modern but could be adapted for the complaining New Yorkers who can’t be bothered putting one thing in one bag and something in another bag.  They could help create jobs and livelihoods by paying a “lazy, too old to change” premium, and have professional wastepickers come to the door, pick up their garbage, take it down, sort, sell, and so forth.  The wastepickers that we organize in India are only paid based on what they can sell of value, but in New York they should get a living wage paid by garbage fee assessments from the lazy and can keep whatever they can gain from recycling sales to brokers as lagniappe that greases the system.  In India virtually the entire middle class is the market, but given the widening equality gap in the United States and certainly in New York City, this could be a high-end service that professional wastepickers could provide, creating thousands of jobs. 

            Composting makes perfect sense obviously so most people will adapt and move forward because in every way it’s simply the right way to go, but for the rest, we would be glad to bring some of our wastepickers over here to the promised land to teach people exactly how it’s done!