Rag Picker
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Basic Information

Rag picker can refer to several different unsavory professions.

  1. In the middle ages it refers to a rag and bone man, or someone who works with them to sort through the trash they collect. For more information, see Rag and Bone Man.
  2. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, it meant a person who cleared jams caused by tangled rags in the machinery of a textile mill. Also called a Rag Gatherer. This work required reaching into narrow places, so child labor was often employed. Thankfully, that's illegal in many places now.
  3. In the modern day, it can also mean roughly the same thing as a dumpster diver or waste picker - someone who scavenges in trash for valuables, generally without permission.
  4. With the growing importance of recycling in the modern era, the rag picker has re-emerged, albiet under a variety of euphamistic names. It's still a bottom tier job - and may even be undertaken by prison labour in some jurisdictions - but it now takes place in mixed waste recycling facilities where skiploads of mixed recyclable waste is tipped onto a conveyor belt and carried past a series of workstations where the staff grap a specific type of waste (e.g. plastic, glass or metal) and stream it out.


Game and Story Use

  • The waste recyclers are good contacts for 'underworld' type PCs and might well bring them something unusual they found whilst scavenging.
  • Likewise they (particularly the type 1. and 3. ones) may turn up dead because of what they found in someone's rubbish.
  • Terry Pratchett's character Harry King ("Piss Harry") started out as something very similar and now employs thousands of them.
  • Actual rag picking often involved sorting cloth rags from a waste stream between cotton and linen (which could be diverted into paper making), silk - which was almost always valuable enough to unpick and rework and wool.
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