The Filipino Garbage Collectors: Seeing the Unseen

Garbage collecting in the Philippines is big money ... for some
Garbage collecting in the Philippines is big money ... for some

Seeing the Unseen: Meet some of the people and places you might not know about during my travels in Mindanao, The Philippines

The Philippines has a high unemployment level, and only a minimum social service to help. Finances are rarely included. If you don’t earn, you starve. Simple as that.

In a lot of countries I have traveled there is a serious garbage and litter problem. It covers the streets. While the Philippines may not be the cleanest of clean places, they do recycle just about everything.

In a lot of places people must pay to have their garbage recycled, in the Philippines people will pay you for your garbage. Especially plastics and metal. This equals tin cans, soda bottles, even bottle caps. They are all weighed in front of you, and money given back.

Junk shops make money selling this collected “garbage” back to Merchants who ship it on to recycling plants around the world. It’s quite the billion dollar industry. And, it starts with a little man on a tricycle.

Jose earns a paltry 1 peso (2 cents USD) per kilo of metal he brings in. He buys metal for 50 centavos (1 cent USD). It can be any type of metal. Pipes, nails, bottle tops, shavings. Even rust. It’s just not metal he’ll except either. Glass or plastic bottles, bags, paper, cardboard you name it, he’ll try to buy it from you.

Jose is one of thousands of independent garbage collectors in the Philippines. He does it as a means of survival, a job. What I found fascinating here was the scale on which he worked.

Click here to read the full story …

Coming soon on Seeing the Unseen: The coconut collectors

This is an additional post and one of a series highlighting the island of Mindanao & the people living in The Philippines

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14 Replies to “The Filipino Garbage Collectors: Seeing the Unseen”

  1. I love this. It’s amazing how people learn to survive. I think these types of recycling programs (for lack of a better word) could be beneficial in other places.

    1. -SpunkyGirl- Thanks. It’s sort of strange how in many developed countries you have to pay to have things recycled, whereas here, they pay you!

      -David @ Malaysia Asia- Good to know there is something like this in Malaysia. Seems a bit more organised there.

      -flip- Every time I mention junk shop’s in The Philippines, people keep saying the owners make a lot of money. Must be the hidden economy!

  2. Very interesting. Similar stuff happens in Malaysia but they don’t come u to your door. You need to call them wen they drive by in their vans or cycle on bicycles. At lease some people are doing something about this.

  3. what an inspiring story… i’ve heard that junkshops earn a lot of money and at the same time provides income for those who collects recyclable materials…

  4. amazing. everyone could learn a thing or two from this.

    also, i’ve been thinking for a few days about why i love to travel, and what i’ve come down to is the world has so many amazing things to offer, more than anyone gives it credit for i’d say, and being able to experience it, to look at things you read about in history books and see what makes other people thrive, even if it’s as simple as a recycling program, it just intrigues me.

    1. -mary beth.- Yes, there are lessons to be learned alright. Intrigue is what keeps us aspiring to learn more, I’m glad you have found this with travel. Each nation / culture can help another out. The problem is, listening an equating those with other ideas to our own. If we can over come this, we have done well. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Shrewd observation. I don’t know where I stand on this – one one hand it hits you in the heart and makes you think ‘how unjust?’, one person working so hard for so little. On the other hand its a shining example of recycling at its finest.

    Not only is it making the most of our resources and negating ANY waste, but maybe its a way of someone making a few cents/turning a coin, where otherwise they would have absolutely nothing at all.

    Western ‘civilisations’ and their throw away society can still learn much from other cultures, despite the majority thinking otherwise.

    1. -Nath- Hi & welcome. It’s a hard one to call from many perspectives. Certainly anyone earning that little, even in a society were the costs are lesser, is not good. It’s a hand to mouth life. He’s just making enough to feed himself a basic rice diet for one day.

      Meanwhile as we move up the scale a little, others make more money from what Jose started.

      I wonder how / when western society will react when they might have to do the same!

  6. I love this. It’s amazing how people learn to survive. I think these types of recycling programs (for lack of a better word) could be beneficial in other places.

  7. if only the plastics could be collected and removed from the pristine beaches and waterways etc …
    and not be burnt near the waters edge as i witnessed at Maya northern side of Cebu .. or fill the towns with smoke in the weekly burnoffs of the toxic belching burning plastic.

    Plastic is a new age crime thats polluting the country
    plastic bags, packets (especially the 1 peso shampoo, 3 in 1 coffee etc),
    plastic bottles etc .. the list goes on .. in the water, on the beach, in creeks, on the side of the road etc its a disgrace…

    1. The burning of plastics covers the country, and not just his country, but many. They’ve tried chemicals but to no avail. Plastics will probably be dug up in another 50 years as technology might have found a way to find value in them by then. Until then, it’s a huge problem

  8. There is an excellent chapter in the book ‘The world without us’ on plastics pollution. They break down quite quickly into microfillaments (even the biodegradable) and these have entered the food chain. Very scary and we have yet to see the effects.
    On the recycle issue, I live on the receiving end of the Filipino cycle collectors. We only have a rough (very) dirt road and its a big effort for them to get to our gate to collect. It’s very heart warming to contibute to the process tho. One of the things about living here that I like so much.


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