One man’s trash…

sourced from Dawn News:


Like many municipalities across the world, Lahore’s struggles with solid waste management are not unique. A steadily increasing volume of wate produced by a growing population, coupled with the financial limitations, has meant that the municipal waste management system is unable to serve the entire city; therefore creating a gap for which the informal sector has stepped in to fill.

Drawing inspiration from what Cornea et al.(2017: 730) describes as a ‘situated’ UPE lens- “an engagement with the everyday that is rooted in local contexts and identities,” deeper analysis is granted into how inherently political waste management is, and how the value attached to it by a network of actors varies; (re)producing the uneven socio-natures of the city. Lahore’s informal waste scavengers, who seek to find recyclables from household waste, exemplify how “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and is the basis for an income in many communities who have formed entire livelihoods in transforming “waste” into resources. The absence of an official recycling system in Lahore has meant that all recycling is operated entirely through informal networks of scavengers and junkshop resellers. This is a particularly interesting dimension of waste management as it reflects the complexities and ambiguity of waste in the urban global south. The same waste that had been discarded and was an object of repulsion, simultaneously is desirable and deemed valuable for the city’s poorest (Demaria and Schindler, 2016).

Scavengers, also known as koorreywalas, are responsible for the estimated 27% of waste by weight that is recycled in the city (Masood et al., 2014). Their work consists of primary collection from households, sorting and transporting to waste transfer sites (or storage containers), as well as selling the recyclables to junkshop dealers. Such informal labour is an unregulated practice but is undeniably pragmatic as ‘recycling activities in Lahore reduce the environmental burden of solid waste, but also enhance economic opportunities’ (Batool et al., 2008) by facilitating a new circular economy that eventually is formalised. The retrieved material that would have ended up in a landfill site is sold and thus renewed as a potential input for remanufacturing; thereby challenging the modern industrial linear process that thrives on a production-consumption-disposal flow.

Example of open transfer site

Asim et al. (2012) studies the socio-demographic characteristics of Southwestern Lahore’s scavengers. Unsurprisingly, the city’s poorest groups take on this work, including Afghan refugees who lack IDs and have no other skills, or the poor Christian minority in the area. These workers are not only socially marginalised, but their labour is rendered invisible as (Masood et al, 2014: 844) notes the poor public perception of the informal workers and how citizens are “often unaware of the presence of waste pickers at the communal waste container sites or even on the streets”. The stark disparity between the crucial work of scavengers in managing the entire city’s recycling operation and their lack of recognition can be traced back to how stigmatised waste work is. It is deemed as “lowly” and “impure”. The ‘disgust’ and culturally constructed understandings of waste as “matter out of place” (Douglas, 1966) has extended to even those who deal with it and resurrect the valueable from it. Instead of a collective gratitude towards waste collectors and scavengers who are in fact ‘re-ordering the environment’ and easing anxieties around waste through their work, the public chooses to ignore them and leaves them to operate in the background, unacknowleged.

To be continued…


Asim, M., Batool, S.A. and Chaudhry, M.N., 2012. Scavengers and their role in the recycling of waste in Southwestern Lahore. Resources, Conservation and Recycling58, pp.152-162.

Batool, S.A., Chaudhry, N. and Majeed, K., 2008. Economic potential of recycling business in Lahore, Pakistan. Waste management28(2), pp.294-298.

Cornea, N., Véron, R. and Zimmer, A., 2017. Clean city politics: An urban political ecology of solid waste in West Bengal, India. Environment and Planning A49(4), pp.728-744.

Demaria, F. and Schindler, S., 2016. Contesting urban metabolism: Struggles over waste‐to‐energy in Delhi, India. Antipode48(2), pp.293-313.

Douglas, M., 1966. 1966: Purity and danger. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Masood, M., Barlow, C.Y. and Wilson, D.C., 2014. An assessment of the current municipal solid waste management system in Lahore, Pakistan. Waste Management & Research32(9), pp.834-847.

5 thoughts on “One man’s trash…

  1. Another brilliantly researched and in-depth piece! It’s interesting to perceive the flows of wastes and materials of the city governed not purely by the state, but by an almost ‘hidden’ army of informal workers who contribute not only to the cleanliness of the streets but a whole new economy. This touches on concepts of Gibson graham diverse economies – the waste left behind by some, creating a non-monetary form of exchange which still holds incredible value, despite unrecognised by the formal market.

    By engaging in forms of upcycling, the recycling of waste by koorreywalas, is arguable a more progressive form of economic practise – though theories of the circular and doughnut economy are recently emerging in Dutch policy and western literature, this is evidence that such practises are not a new and exciting lifestyle, but already exist in the global south. This highlights how battling issues of waste in the cities of the global north, require examining practises from cities like Shanghai, as well as communal decentralised approaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really enjoyable read! It’s really interesting to learn how crucial the informal industry is to Lahore, even though it is intentionally neglected and even cracked down upon by authorities. In the last paragraph, you suggested that the city collaborates with its informal recycling industry – what would incentivise authorities to do so, given that they seem unwilling to grant these workers a proper place in the city? Also, while the industry’s informal status does definitely disadvantage workers (e.g. in terms of low pay and unsanitary working conditions), is it possible that formalising the industry might introduce other issues, such as restrictions on the number employed, which would need to be addressed?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great entry. I really like how you explore the politics of these ‘scavengers’ in Lahore. It appears our idea of what waste is a social construction because as you said “one mans trash is another mans treasure”. What me and you think of as useless is a livelihood for someone else. Its also interesting to think that no matter how difficult waste is to manage, it is a crucial part of our economy and the livelihoods of many. Watch out for a few grammar and spelling mistakes, and also try and use subheadings.


  4. Another really interesting post. it was really great reading about the similarities between Lahore and Cairo (my city of choice for my blogs). It was insightful to see the similarities in the power relations and the asymmetry that the scavengers have despite their importance for waste removal. really great post well done!


  5. This is a great post! I liked the clear and well-thought structure of the post and language. You also gave some gret insights into the topic, which was fascinating to read!


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