Recycling and the Gyppo

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The entire world, especially, but not only, the countries of the developed world, are on about the need for everyone to recycle.

Before the word “recycling” (and those related to it) was ever even invented it was the Gypsy who was doing just that, namely recycling and such. Reclaiming materials, and not just metals, was a main activity for many Gypsy families and clans. Who were the majority of those that went about with horse and cart or even handcart calling “any old iron” and calling for rags and old bones even, the so-called “rag and bone men” or the “totters”. They were of Romani origin in the great majority and it was not only the menfolks that did this tasks.

Then this trade was stopped; the calling around the country was basically outlawed. The picking on the municipal dumps was outlawed and handed to the “professional pickers”. What was the result? Guess what? Suddenly we have a problem. What a surprise – NOT! And now everyone is clamouring for it. Recycling is the slogan everywhere. It was the Gypsy who first took scrap, took other people's trash, and turned it into resalable items again, whether the knives that many made from old knives or other things. More often than not it was not just “reclaiming” the metals and other items; often it was restoring and refurbishing the items for resale. This was anything from furniture to machinery, and many other items in between and later up to electrical goods. Fence wire was turned into the likes of toasting forks, barbecue forks, and many other items. Old knives were reworked into new ones, blade grade steel was made into knives and other cutting tools, and we could get on and on.

Now everyone is trying to do the same and then again it is not the same. While the practical recycling that was done by the Gypsy the industrial recycling, to some degree, to me at least, seems to be less good for the Planet. The impact of energy and factories and such is adding to the environmental footprint of us and those companies. Then again, rather have the material, obviously, recycled in such a fashion instead of it going into landfills.

But there are many aspects of recycling that could be done, yet again, in the way the old Gypsy did. All we need to do is to adapt to the materials. Entire community livelihood projects and programs could be set up for Romani communities to do recycling and there is a market out there for the right quality of recycled goods, made in a way as it was done before.

I know that there are some modern “totters” out there of the Romani community but most of them are only looking to pick up and carry scrap metal to this or that dealer. If we talk scrap metal then we should take it all the way.

What do I mean with taking it all the way? I mean that we should disassemble, say, vehicles and ourselves sell the parts reclaimed as secondhand spares. However, my real issue in this article is for ours to return to doing “recycling crafts” that can be sold locally and further afield. Many families and clans could be gainfully employed – by themselves – in recycling and refurbishing those things that others, especially the general public, throw out. There is also commercial waste available that could be used in such ventures, such as canvass and tarpaulin from manufacturers that use such materials, as well as, and especially, the material that has been used and would, otherwise, end up in the landfill. Time we got and did it again; we did it before. The only difference, nowadays, would be that the materials are different.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008