The head of Tehran’s city council in a shocking report on April 13, 2021 reported a strange phenomenon called the garbage mafia, in which more than 14,000 homeless people, immigrants, and street children are busy in the Iranian capital alone.

Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani referred to the problem of waste in Iran as a gordian knot or a growing pest, which in other countries is the source of income and energy for decades in their developed cities.

He mentioned the deterrents in achieving the use of waste, the garbage mafia as well as the weak city administration and said:

“The garbage mafia, by using working children and foreign nationals, homeless people and deprived workers, in addition to environmental issues and threatening the health of society, has also caused social harm. The second obstacle is the weakness of the city management and lack of courage to make a fundamental change in the municipal waste system.”

According to a 2018 study, the number of garbage collectors in Tehran is 14,000, of which 4,700 are children. Forty percent of these children are completely illiterate, 37 percent have left school, 59 percent are accompanied by garbage collectors, and 62 percent of them collect garbage without any protective facilities like gloves and work an average of 10.5 hours a day.
Reports show that the turnover of the garbage trade is estimated at several trillion tomans annually. Just the turnover of the dry garbage in Tehran is about three trillion tomans per year, 70 percent of which is the share of informal garbage collection.

According to surveys by the ‘Imam Ali population’ two years ago, children who collect garbage collect an average of 60 kilos of garbage per day, and most of them live in garbage separation workshops. These workshops are typically garages on the outskirts of the city without the most basic sanitation facilities, and garbage collecting children are exposed to a variety of infectious diseases.

The news agency Shar also wrote in its report in September 2020: “Dry waste turnover in Tehran is about three trillion tomans per year, 70 percent of which is the share of informal waste collection. In recent years, many contractors have pocketed so much money in contracts with municipalities to take responsibility for collecting and sorting dry waste that they have now become billionaires.”

‌Mahmoud Aligo, head of the country’s social emergency organization, said in a TV program on ‘Working and street children’: According to the statistics of the Ministry of Labor in 2017, there are 500,000 working children in the country, which are divided into three categories: children working at workshops, street working children and garbage collecting children.”

He continued: “Most working children are from the workshop category, which has received the least amount of attention. The population of working children on the streets cannot be counted.” (Hamshahri Online, April 12, 2021)

The head of the Social Commission of Iran’s parliament also stated in this TV program: “Thirteen agencies are responsible for working children, but after 42 years, specific statistics on these children have not been provided yet, and this is a shame.” (Hamshahri Online, April 12, 2021)