Nearly 100 waste paper collection depots were recently raided by police in Turkey. 240 waste paper collectors were penalised and two were detained in a police raid at a recycling warehouse in Istanbul’s Ümraniye district on 4 October. Two days later, in more police raids on waste collection depots in Istanbul’s Ataşehir, nearly 200 people were taken into custody. Waste paper collectors have been facing similar pressures and targeting in Ankara.
The Turkish government announced new regulations on waste management in 2004. Municipalities have control of the collection of recyclable waste to private companies and have the control to force waste paper collectors to sell their collected waste paper material to certain companies paying a lower price than general market prices for the material.
On the streets of the Turkish capital, one can see hundreds of waste-paper collectors working like bees running from one waste bin to another from the early hours of the day until after midnight.
There are also many women in Ankara working as waste-paper collectors, but their working conditions are already harder than the men as being a woman working on the streets makes them additionally subject to sexual violence and exploitation.
Meral, a 54-year-old woman waste-paper collector, describes the harsh circumstances she has to work under. Meral told Jin News that she had been working together with her husband until two years ago when her husband passed away.
”I am a single woman, trying to make a living doing this job. I am 54 years old, what else can I do after this age? I am trying to make a living by collecting paper boxes and plastic.”
Complaining that women waste-paper collectors are often ignored by the media and society, Meral stated that when it comes to recognising their labour, women waste-paper collectors are invisible, but when it comes to harrasment, their invisibility dissappears.
“I don’t go out to work much during the day. I have to work more in the evenings. I usually work until 9 pm. However, as a woman, when I go out to work in the evenings, I don’t feel safe. I face harassment a lot. I have not been attacked, but there is no guarantee of that. I do not feel secure.”
It is really hard to make ends meet working as a waste-paper collector, Meral states.”It is very difficult to make a living with this job. Life conditions are not easy at all. I earn around 1,600 Turkish lira a month. My house rent is 500 Turkish lira. When it comes, together with the bills, it is very small amount of money.”
In the face of increasing repression of their profession, Meral says she does not have any other sources of income.