Last weekend I was in Chinatown on assignment and I stumbled upon a curious area amidst the sprawl of shop houses and malls (pictured). When I asked the proprietor of the makeshift junkyard (for lack of a better phrase) what kind of business he was running in the tiny stretch of empty land, his reply was "recycling."
Basically this entrepreneur was a recycling vendor...someone who buys goods from the karung guni and the seniors that you see scrounging for aluminum cans in the trash. The same seniors that we often see struggling to lug old newspapers around town. "One man's junk is another's treasure." That was the thought that was going through my mind as I perused the stacks of cardboard, newspaper and cans. Aroused by my curiosity I asked the vendor how much does he pay the people for the wares they bring him. He gave me a pricelist in a matter a factly tone: "I pay $0.10 per kilo of CDs or cardboard. $0.13 for each kilo of old newspapers, and $1.00 per kilo of aluminum cans."
The pricelist shocked me. I quickly did some mental sums in my mind: Now, assuming the seniors you see collecting recyclables to make a living collect on average of 5 kilos of newspapers per day for 30 days a month at $0.13 for every kilo of newspapers. On average they would make $19.50 per month. If the seniors instead focused on collecting aluminum cans, and assuming they also collect an average of 5 kilos of cans per day over a 30 day period at $1 per kilo of cans they find, they would make an average of $150 per month. These figures should shock you if they haven't already. These numbers basically amount to a pittance and are way below what even passes for a minimum living wage in this country. One has to really wonder what the recycling vendor is truly making per month, because $19.50 per month doesn't even cover the price of the gas he puts into the lorry he uses to transport the recyclables that he buys from the people who labor to bring him his wares on a daily basis. Recycling is big business in the developed world. There has been stories in Singapore about Karung gunis who have literally gone from rags to riches by being in the recycling business (link).
Now that you are armed with this information, stop for a moment and think about this: Based on what you just learned in the revelation that I just wrote about...don't you think that we as a nation could stand to have some form of legislation in place that ensures that everyone, not just our seniors, who toil all day to collect and sell recyclables at least earn a fair wage from all the arduous work they do? Or at we should at least help them find better paying work instead of slogging so hard everyday for an amount that you yourself wouldn't even get out of bed for one day's work?