Prishtinë, 26 November 2015
Most people from RAE communities earn their living by collecting scrap (recyclable waste) in containers. Harsh economic and social conditions make them work night and day in dangerous places, in unsuitable temperatures, and with no proper equipment in order to earn enough money to survive. These collectors gather raw products, which are then exported. The collection of waste has become a typical and everyday activity for them, despite the consequences. The adults say this is what they have been doing since childhood, due to the lack of opportunities in education or employment. Their children share the same fate. Taking these circumstances into account, they have no opportunity to make alternative choices in order to survive.
Individual or informal waste collectors are not organized around a formal structure. They have no official agreements with private companies that collect scrap.
High volume of waste produced the need for a more efficient system of management. But neither the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, nor companies that provide public services in waste management managed to establish such a system. As a consequence, in Kosovo a recently emerged informal sector of waste management has taken shape.
Scrap business is very profitable, though disproportional for those involved in this activity. Companies that collect and export waste gain millions of Euros, while Kosovo citizens who collect this waste hardly manage to earn their living.
In all municipalities around Kosovo there are people of all age groups who collect waste from containers and send them to collection points. Preportr team followed the work of individual collectors for a number of days, with the focus on the regions of Prishtina, Fushë Kosova, and the landfill in Gjilan, having in mind that there is a higher concentration of collectors in these areas.
In Fushë Kosova, the situation is different because all residents of two big neighborhoods collect waste and earn for their living doing this everyday activity.
Around 12% of residents of this municipality are members of RAE communities. They live in very difficult social conditions and many of them live in old and demolished houses.
The spokesperson of Fushë Kosova municipality, Ali Topalli, said for Preportr that only a portion of the families of these communities receive social assistance. Only 278 out of 500 families of the Ashkali community receive social assistance, 32 out of 50 families of the Roma community, and 30 out of 40 families of the Egyptian communities receive social assistance.
In the narrow streets of these two neighborhoods, at all times you can see children, women and men carrying the collected waste, some with carts and hand tractors, others with bags in their bare hands. They first take the waste to their backyards in order to classify it and then send it to collection points. Anyone who visits these neighborhoods for the first time might be perplexed by the way people collect waste the entire day, but for people living there, this is the reality.
The activity from the collection of scrap to its preparation is comprised of various chain cycles. The first link of this chain is comprised of individual collectors who take these materials to the collection points close to their places of residence. These collection points take the waste to large companies, which export the scrap after pressing it.
The export is usually carried out in the countries in the region and beyond. From this entire chain, collection points gain approximately 3 to 5 cents per kilo of scrap. However, the price for export varies depending on the destination country. For instance, a kilo of plastics in Albania is approximately exported for 13 cents whereas in Switzerland it is exported with a price of around 6 Euros.
Recyclable materials like iron, copper, plastics, paper etc. are on top of the lists of exported goods. Only during the period from 2010–2015, 520,581,960 kilos of scrap had been exported, totaling the amount of 105,020,106 Euros.
Much work, little money
Although Nesife has five children, she and her husband go to Prishtina everyday in order to collect waste. She says they have to do this for their survival, since they have small children and she takes along the youngest one who is less then one year old. The conditions in which they live, which may not even be called a house, are very difficult. It is very difficult to live there during summer, let alone during the winter.
“Kids do not go to school. We go around containers looking for waste in Prishtina. No set hour to go out – depends when we have to. We collect a bag, a bag and a half per day, and we get 5-6 Euros. Sometimes we manage to buy elementary things with this money, other times we don’t”, she says.
Zymer is another everyday collector of waste. He is around his fifties and says he does this work since childhood. He collects waste mainly in Prishtina, together with his children, who are minors.
I do this job since childhood and I will be doing it until I die, for there is unemployment everywhereZymeri
“I do this job since childhood and I will be doing it until I die, for there is unemployment everywhere. I go out everyday, but now my hand tractor is broken and I can’t go out there. I mostly go in Prishtina in ‘Bregu i Diellit’ and around ‘Dardania” neighborhoods, he says.
Zymer says that he mostly collects nylon, cans and plastic bottles. He says he earns from 5 to 8 Euros a day for a two-day work.
“We live with this, and sometimes we find food that we give to our children because sometimes we find ourselves in these kinds of situations, that’s life. We are not satisfied with the prices because they dropped a lot. One kilo of bottles has gone from 19 to 13 cents”, says Zymer.
Zymer says that this is very difficult and dangerous job, since it is very dangerous to be in continuous contact with different types of waste. Zymer takes the waste to his backyard until a considerable amount is collected. But the collection of waste in the backyard is dangerous for his small children, who play with this waste since they don’t have toys.