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Junk Collectors

Several months ago, when I was about to enter the public market near my place, I saw this old woman more or less in her early 60’s checking something on the garbage cans. That was really my first impression. I tried to observe what she’s doing for a few seconds more and I then realized she was after these empty and used plastic bottles. At first, I thought she was just looking for something she might have lost or maybe she’s looking for scrapped foods. But she’s not. The old lady looks clean and not like a scavenger. She’s just a typical person we’re seeing around. After a few moments, I approached the lady and told her,

“Nay, heto po ang konti (pera), pandagdag sa kita ninyo”.

(Auntie, here’s something (small amount), you can add to your income.)


And the old lady replied with a smile,

“Naku, salamat anak.”

(Oh, thank you son.)

Then, I proceeded with my market activity that day. From that time on, whenever I go to the market, I always hope that I will still see her, and give her a small amount of money again or maybe food. As what I can remember, I met her twice on the same place – near the garbage cans right in front of the market.


For many Filipinos, what the old lady is doing is just an ordinary routine, nothing special or weird about it. She’s just one of the many Filipinos who’s struggling to survive but still find ways to earn a decent living. We call them here “basurero”, “magbobote”, “mangangalakal”, or sometimes “bakal-bote”. And mostly are boys, so I was a bit surprised when I encountered this old lady. They are people with these wooden carts, sidecars, and sometimes just pieces of empty sacks on their back to where the collected junks are kept.

Before we go over the sad realities behind this informal job of the Filipinos, let me describe briefly how they make money from it.

As early as six in the morning, they walk around the town, city or along the streets to find junks which can still be sold. These junks can be empty plastic bottles, glass bottles and jars, scrap metals, unused cartons and newspapers, and almost anything that still has value on it. After about a day of work under the heat of the sun or coldness of the rain, they go to a junk shop to sell those stuffs.


This is what I know. I may be not accurate with these figures. Empty plastic bottles are sold from as low as 5 pesos to a high of 20 pesos per kilo. Bottles are 50 cents to 1 pesos per piece. Cartons and newspapers are at 5 to 10 pesos per kilo. Scrap metals are sold at 25 to 50 pesos per kilo. The price varies from town to town, city to city. So a junk collector whom was able to fill his cart or sidecar may more likely earn 100 to 200 pesos a day, up to 500 if he’s really lucky in finding junks. But most of the time, it is not case for many junk collectors. What they got is just enough for a kilo of rice and a can of sardines.

Why these people ended up in this miserable informal job?

Well, to be clear, that question is not meant to insult them – not in any way. It is just that in an economic perspective, and health-wise, being a junk collector means you’re engaging yourself into dirty environment and at the same time it is a job no one or two legal employers really hires for.



Junk collector - this is an informal job created out of poverty, out of people’s frustration in not finding a job or find better sources of living. This is the result of bad luck in life for many Filipinos.


But let me be clear about something.

There are formal jobs for scrappers or junk collectors. True, but the circumstances between a formal and informal junk collector are completely different. Large companies used to hire sub-contractors to collect their junks and dispose them in accordance with the law. Junk shop owners, to where informal junk collectors sell their junks, are legitimate business owners – at least a few of them comply to the law respective of business permits. It is a fact as well that some people managed to invest on motorized vehicles and made junk collection their main job or business. But they are only a few of the thousands of poor Filipino junk collectors in the country. The difference is pretty obvious, way far, if you would try to imagine. Maybe these next paragraphs can help explain more why.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I never heard of junk collectors, with that nature of their jobs, that are legally employed. They do it for they need cash to buy their needs, their basic necessities. Even children as young as 3 or 4 are used to entering this kind of activity. Imagine that. Yes, it happens in this country.


I do not have that much photo to share, but I believe many of you understand what I am talking about here.

We may have neighbors or family members or friends who’s into this kind of job. Or maybe you yourself is a junk collector. If its about a decent job, in the sense that you’re not doing anything bad to others, there is nothing to worry about. That is how life goes and maybe one day, you’ll meet a good fortune from what you’re doing. Nobody knows what can be next.

But my suggestion is this.

Please always take care of yourself while roving the streets and scavenging the trash cans and dump fields. Wear protective clothing if possible and clean yourself before meal and going to bed. I understand many of you never mind these things about safety and cleanliness, for what you just want is money to feed your family. And may the good luck come to you as well, as soon as possible.

Here in the Philippines, many do not understand how hard really life is. Because many cannot afford education, they ended up in horrible life situations. No job, no income. To survive a day of hunger and thirst, poor Filipinos will do what is dictated of them by their stomach – find food. Looking for junks or scraps to sell is an automatic biological response. Sad but true, happening.

Should we blame someone else? The government? The opportunists? NGOs who forgets that we have these junk collectors risking their lives to earn a living? Corrupt politicians stealing money supposedly for the poor people? Maybe yes. Maybe not.


What is obvious is that these group of people exist in the Philippines. Maybe in simple ways, like what I did for the old lady, whenever you have the chance and extra food or money, give them a treat. Maybe a bottle of fresh water and a piece of bread will do. Or maybe, you can help them in even better ways. They need our help.

The issue of poverty is really difficult to tackle. People have different views and varying opinions. Some may agree while others ignore. But what would you do if you’re in the shoes of a junk collector? As a Filipino living in a country undermined by corrupt people, even me cannot even think of a better answer.


About this Post
The author, Noriel Panganiban, founder of this website and www.knowriel.com, is posting a series of blogs this year with short titles mainly referring to certain groups of people in the Philippine society. The intention is to introduce them in a positive way - tell who they really are, what are they doing, what's wrong about their existence, and how can we possibly correct those wrong things happening around them. Philippines has a deeper story, maybe beyond what you already know of it. While many perceive Philippines as a country of beautiful people and places, there are ugly things going on here. Delivered in a professional, harmless tone, Project Pilipinas aims to expose the sad realities about the Filipinos and recommend solutions that could alleviate those. This blog also aims to find people like you, who have that kind heart to help people in need - directly.

May this post inspires you to help others.

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