Rag Pickers

Sami let rag pickers work the Transfer Station’s bins. He wasn’t really allowed to, as it reduced the waste’s recycling value. However it could be termed a grey area, as people were allowed to “retract and repurpose extant waste”. He had skim-read regulations and found that phrase. He could quote it if questioned.

He called out, “Jamz, how’s it going over there?”

A thin boy in a red hoody, crouching in a bin, straightened up and waved. He cupped his hands to his mouth and said, “A good day so far, Mr Sami. Let’s hope it gets even better!”

Sami loved these kids. He saw them most days after school, analysing the day’s new arrivals, before the waste was shipped out the next morning. At weekends they were usually away, helping their families with odd jobs around town.

They were poor kids from the trailer park. The rich-poor division in Lucerne was extreme. It was often referred to as the professional-unprofessional problem, but in truth it was more about privileged and unprivileged members of society, if such a thing existed.

A famous British Prime Minister had said, “There is no such thing as society”. Sami’s teacher, Guru Baba, had wanted to meet this lady to ask her what she meant by that, but she had recently died. He referred to her as an “anti-role model”.

When Sami worked on film crews, he had learnt about the effect called persistence of vision, where an image remains on the retina for a short period after its source is removed. This effect is used to create the illusion of continuous motion between frames in movies.

There was a similar effect in societies called persistence of privilege. Studies showed that children of wealthy people were physically and mentally healthier, wealthier, and ultimately happier in life. You can’t blame the parents, as their biological imperative is to promote their genes, and you can’t blame the kids for having good role models, and for enjoying their lives. Who can you blame then for children picking rags daily after school?

Jamz was the rag pickers’ unofficial spokesman. He came over later and said, “We’re all done for today. There’s nothing much out there, but slim pickings are better than thin air. Thanks again.”

There was an informal agreement that rag pickers would not take the right materials from bins, only misplaced materials. They took plastic from metal bins, metal from wood bins, wood from fibre bins, and fibre from paper bins. This cleaned the waste stream, making it easier to sort later; less labour was needed to dismantle complex consumer products, such as cell phones, and there were fewer breakdowns at the processing centre. So the value of materials lost was recouped in efficiency. Sami felt it was a case of win-win, or maybe bin-bin.

Sami began training Jamz on the 3D Unit. He taught him to prototype products, print components, and create unusual gifts. At Christmas, he called the rag pickers together and said that he and Jamz would make them each a model of anything they wanted.

At first they were shy, but then began to speak up.

“A dad.”

“A mum.”

“A house.”

“A car.”

“Money.” This wasn’t allowed at the 3D Unit, and would set The Authority’s alarm bells ringing.

“A better future.”

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