They Work the Trash

It is a messy, 15-foot-high heap of filthy paper, the remains of what used to be dailies, magazines, commercial folders, packaging material and gift wraps. A dozen men in blue jeans and yellow safety vests, some of them wearing dust masks, comb trough the mess, before fork lifters nd a small shovel excavator move the dune to a conveyor belt at the side of the hall…

Throughout the USA, 15,700 waste facilities processed an estimated 44 million tons of solid waste in one year. At the bottom level of the approximately 370,000 who work in the waste industry stand the pickers and sorters. They labor in unheated, poorly illuminated rooms filled with dust. Most of them are immigrants or sons of immigrants. If they belong to unions, they are paid reasonably well, but if not, their inability to speak useful English or to produce immigration documents often encourages employers to pay them little or nothing…

Read this article in Fault Lines (pdf-file)

those who work the dirt. photo: matthias g. bernold

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