Cartoneros

April 08, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Here in Buenos Aires they have garbage collection on a daily basis. They have to! There is just so much of it that they would get too far behind to let it slide for even one day. 8 million people generate a ton of trash. Surprisingly, you see very very little evidence of recycle bins anywhere. There are piles and piles of green garbage bags in mid block and on every street corner .. but no blue recycle bins or collection depots anywhere. I would suppose, based on that observation, they do not have a recycle program here in the city. 

Wrong ... they do ... and it begs explanation.

The topic of the Buenos Aires Cartoneros has been documented, filmed, written about and blogged damn near to death. Go on an internet search and you'll see a few thousand entries under that title. However, I can't let my time here in B.A. go by without at least mentioning these folks and the job they do. It's amazing how such a poorly regarded and looked down upon resource could have such a disastrous effect if it weren't here. After all, all they do is collect the recyclables that are discarded every evening by the residents of the city.

To get the statistics out of the way first: 

- 400,000 tons of recyclable material is collected and sold every year

- Cartoneros earn 70 million pesos annually selling it

- By the time it's passed through the middlemen and back into business, it's sold for 450 million pesos

- There are 6 -10,000 cartoneros today that make the daily trek into the city, as opposed to over 40,000 back in 2002 (during the economic crisis)

- 10,500 are officially registered with the government

- Cartoneros get $.45 pesos (thats 45 centavos = about 12 cents U.S.) per kilo of white paper, 17-20 centavos for cardboard, 12 centavos for newsprint, 25-30 centavos for plastic bottles and 7-10 centavos for glass.

The neighbourhood bosses who collect from the cartoneros add 20% to the price before they sell the bulk to larger recycling collectors, who add another 100% before they sell to the paper mills and recycling depots as raw material, who themselves sextuple the price when they turn the material into finished products that they will sell back into the public market.A "cartanero" at work

There were garbage pickers long before the Cartoneros, but these guys came into their own during and after the economic meltdown in 2002. The govt back in those days was just happy that some people were finding work (jobless rate was over 50%). At the time the recycle money was pretty good too (comparatively). The rates that the recycle companies paid back then were much higher than today .. and jobs were tough to get back then as well. The government helped by putting on a special train to take the workers from the barrios into the city and then using the same train to carry all the recycle material to the plant up near Tigre or the plant out by Mataderos. With the economic recovery came better work opportunities ... and then the recycling businesses began to pay less ... which accounts for why many Cartoneros have moved on to other jobs. However, each evening, rain or shine, these folks arrive from their barrios outside the city and go to work, pawing through all the bags of garbage looking for the recyclables.

This "job" has become regarded as a "profession" by it's practitioners. They have a union of sorts. The govt has recently acknowledged their contribution to the cities welfare and has accorded them the same increased benefits as any normal worker gets. They are registered with the city government and have ID cards to prove their place in the workforce. For many, it has become a family affair. Some bring their kids with them and they all go trash-picking (I'm dead set against child labour) and it's not unheard of to see the wives and babies manning the little coffee stands at the central pick-up points scattered throughout the city. The guys take a coffee break every now and then when they bring their cart loads into the collecting points.

I'll let you find your way through the internet to read or see more photos on these folks. As I said, it's a tough job, in unsanitary working conditions and inclement weather, but it is honest work and serves the needs of the city. I'll just leave it at that.

 


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