Last update:
2019-12-21

Economic woes, plastic packaging and children wastepickers in Tehran's “Dirt Gold Mafia”, Iran

Tehran is currently facing the rise of an underground operation referred to as the “dirt gold mafia”, employing children and Afghan refugees for the collection of recyclable waste before legal collectors do.


Description:

Background information on waste management in Tehran

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Economic woes, plastic packaging and children wastepickers in Tehran's “Dirt Gold Mafia”, Iran
Country:Iran, Islamic Rep.
State or province:Tehran
Location of conflict:Tehran
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific commodities:Recycled Metals
Plastic
Domestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

It seems to be no concrete project which is tackling/plans to tackle the dire circumstances Tehran wastepickers, and especially children, are currently facing. This may be due to the fact that there aren't any specific NGO's concerning the informal waste sector in Tehran. However, some very preliminary suggestions have been made. These can be found under the section "Project Outcome".

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:3000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2006
Company names or state enterprises:Tehran Waste Management Organization (TWMO) from Iran, Islamic Rep.
Relevant government actors:Tehran City Council
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Labour Organization (ILO) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:National Body on the Convention of the Rights of the Child
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution
Potential: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Outcome
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:Hossein Jafari, head of the Tehran Waste Management Organization argues that if all of Tehran’s residents would implement the scheme for waste segregation at source, the number of wastepickers would decline. So far, the scheme has proved unsuccessful since most of the Tehran’s residents have not complied with the separation of dry and waste waste [6]. This same view is expressed by activist and sociologist M. Zohoorian but in a more bottom-up setting: “For the separation of garbage, first of all, it must be built up. It should also be remembered that according to the living conditions of the people of the community that reside mostly in small residential units, one can not expect to use only two bins for the separation of waste. If waste separation is done, then the waste bins will be empty and we will no longer see garbage collection” [14]. During the ceremony on the eve of the World Day Against Children's Work in Tehran, Kamil Ahmadi stated that: “Providing citizenship education infrastructure will be another effective way to solve this issue. For example, citizens do not separate their garbage. Part of this problem will be resolved if citizens are held accountable for the separation of waste at home. We make a massive amount of waste without asking ourselves without asking how many of us refuse to get a plastic bag when shopping from a shop? Because our city life has become very lazy”. When it comes to the fact that many wastepickers are illegal Afghan immigrants, Ahmadi mentions that the best solution is to send children under the age of 15 back to Afghanistan and keep children over the age of 15 in Iran. With the help of government agencies they would then be able receive an education [15]. Researcher and civil society activist Murad Saqafi says that these contradictions should be resolved and that simply sending back children to Afghanistan will not solve the problem [15].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The above deliberations are very preliminary and mainly assume that if the Tehran Waste Management Organization organizes its municipal waste collection services better, there will be less waste for the informal sector to collect - making them magically disappear. When it comes to children specifically, the suggestions seem to be more clear-cut even if sending refugee children back is problematic. But overall, active efforts focused on providing alternative modes of livelihoods for those involved in the informal waste sector seem to be absent.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[11] Waste Management System Modeling of Tehran (10/2008)
[click to view]

[10] Municipal solid waste management in Tehran: Current practices, opportunities and challenges (2008)
[click to view]

[17] Email exchange with Mariam Abazeri, Iranian Phd. Student in Ecosystem Science

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3] TM Censured for Inferior Waste Management (11/2015)
[click to view]

[4] Slowly Cracking the Chains – Iran‘s Waste Management is Going to Awake (Date unknown)
[click to view]

[4] Slowly Cracking the Chains – Iran‘s Waste Management is Going to Awake
[click to view]

[5] Tehran Waste Ends Up in Kahrizak Landfill (08/2016)
[click to view]

[5] Tehran Waste Ends Up in Kahrizak Landfill
[click to view]

[6] Too Many Ragpickers (12/2016)
[click to view]

[6] Too Many Ragpickers
[click to view]

[1] Recycling Iranian Style
[click to view]

[7] TM, Trash ‘Mafia’ and Lack of Responsibility (08/2017)
[click to view]

[8] Iranian press review: Arrested environmentalists appear in court (01/2019)
[click to view]

[8] Iranian press review: Arrested environmentalists appear in court
[click to view]

[13] Judicial Enforcement: Unauthorized Waste Unit collected in District 20 - Translated (05/2019)
[click to view]

[14] Garbage dumping increases the hidden anger of poverty - Translated (09/2018)
[click to view]

TM, Trash ‘Mafia’ and Lack of Responsibility
[click to view]

Children without childhood, the grim reality of Iran child laborers (06/2018)
[click to view]

[15] There are 6,000 informal "garbage dumps" in the country / 5% of illegal migrant garbage dumps - Translated (06/2009)
[click to view]

[16] Children without childhood, the grim reality of Iran child laborers (06/2018)
[click to view]

[3] TM Censured for Inferior Waste Management
[click to view]

[1] Recycling Iranian Style (03/2014)
[click to view]

[12] Reporting the status of children in Tehran’s waste separation centers (08/2018)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[2] PET Bottle Recycling Machine in Iran
[click to view]

[2] PET Bottle Recycling Machine in Iran (05/2010)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Chandni Dwarkasing - EnvJustice ICTA-UAB
Last update21/12/2019
Comments
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