Ragpicker  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ragpicker, or chiffonnier, is a term for someone who makes a living by rummaging through refuse in the streets to collect material for salvage. Scraps of cloth and paper could be turned into cardboard, broken glass could be melted down and reused, and even dead cats and dogs could be skinned to make clothes.

The ragpickers in 19th and early 20th Century did not recycle the materials themselves; they would simply collect whatever they could find and turn it over to a "master ragpicker" (usually a former ragpicker) who would, in turn, sell it—generally by weight—to wealthy investors with the means to convert the materials into something more profitable.

Although it was solely a job for the lowest of the working classes, ragpicking was considered an honest occupation, more on the level of street sweeper than of a beggar. In Paris, for instance, ragpickers were regulated by law: their operations were restricted to certain times of night, and they were required to return any unusually valuable items to the owner or to the authorities. When Eugène Poubelle introduced the garbage can in 1884, he was criticized in the French newspapers for meddling with the ragpickers' livelihoods. Modern sanitation and recycling programs ultimately caused the profession to decline, though it did not disappear entirely; rag and bone men were still operating in the 1970s.

Ragpicking is still widespread in Third World countries today, such as in Mumbai, India, where it offers the poorest in society around the rubbish and recycling areas a chance to earn a hand-to-mouth supply of money. In 2015, the Environment Minister of India declared a national award to recognise the service rendered by ragpickers. The award, with a cash prize of Rs. 1.5 lakh, is for three best rag pickers and three associations involved in innovation of best practices.

Relationship in waste management and recycling

Ragpicking has a positive impact on urban spaces with a weak waste management infrastructure. In India, the economic activity of ragpicking is worth about ₹3200 crore. India was also found to have a near-90% recycle rate for PET bottles, which could probably be attributed to ragpicking, given a lack of solid-waste management and under-developed waste collection and recycling culture in that country

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ragpicker" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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