From Discrimination to Street Violence: The Realities of Being an Informal Waste Picker

Christopher "Buboy" Tillerba has been an informal e-waste worker around Caloocan and Bulacan for over two decades. JOVER LARION/ECOWASTE COALITION

Being an informal e-waste worker is no easy job. It entails working under the scorching heat for hours and getting exposed to toxic chemicals that have long-term adverse effects on one's health. This is what Buboy, an informal e-waste worker, has been doing for years despite the hardships. 

For almost two decades now, Christopher “Buboy” Tillerba has picked up e-waste throughout Caloocan City and Bulacan. In 1993, when Christopher was still an elementary student, he started to pick up bottles and cartons, and sold them to junk shops in exchange for money. After a few years, he realized that income in this had been inconsistent, so he had the idea to focus on e-wastes instead. Fast forward to 2005, Buboy also started dismantling e-wastes that he collected. In a way, it can be said that he was one of the pioneers of informal e-waste work in the country.

"Pinagtatawanan kami at niloloko kami ng mga tao dahil mangangalakal kami. Tingin nila mas mababang uri kami ng tao." 

Having been in the business for years, Buboy has experienced the best and worst of being in this line of work. While he admits that the job has provided his family with food and shelter, it also comes with many downsides, one of which is the constant discrimination they experience daily whenever they go around their routes. On people’s tendency to often make fun of them or prank them for no reason, he said, "Pinagtatawanan kami at niloloko kami ng mga tao dahil mangangalakal kami. Tingin nila mas mababang uri kami ng tao." Being an informal e-waste worker is an honest and clean job; however, other people see them as mere nuisance to society and as less of a person just because they deal with waste. He said that he just got used to it at one point and ignored them as much as he could. "Masakit na yun yung tingin ng mga tao sa amin kahit na pare-parehas lang naman tayo ng mithiin na magtrabaho para makabili ng pagkain, pero sa trabahong ‘to, kailangan mo na lang tanggapin kundi ikaw din ang dehado sa huli," he added. He said that if he lets these remarks affect him, then he wouldn't be able to put food on the table and provide shelter for his family.

Sadly, the discrimination he experiences sometimes go beyond mere jokes or pranks. There was one instance where he was doing his regular routine when a group of men ganged up on him, ready to beat him with sticks. Fortunately, he was able to placate them and leave unscathed. Unfortunately, this type of street violence is not a one-time thing. The most violent experience he has ever encountered in his almost 30 years of waste picking was when another civilian held him at gunpoint. "Nangangalakal ako at nakasakay sa sidecar hanggang pumasok ako sa isang masikip na daan at may nakasalubong akong isa pang motorista, dahil mabigat ang kalakal ko ay hirap akong umatras para paunahin siya. Hindi ko alam kung bakit, pero bigla nalang siya nag labas ng baril at pinaatras ako ng pilitan," he elaborated. What Buboy experienced has been experienced by most e-waste workers, especially the women.

E-waste workers serve an essential role in our society, especially in safeguarding our environment and public health, yet most individuals treat them poorly. It's high time for their services to our country be recognized and celebrated. Instead of discrimination and violence, people should give them kindness and help. At the end of the day, they are just like each of us — trying to live a dignified job in order to survive. | PATRICIA NICDAO