The economic crisis that began in 2008 caused the unemployment rate of many countries around the world to skyrocket. Jobs have disappeared, and the least fortunate of the world’s population has turned to the informal sector for employment. Many have been forced to take desperate measures to simply feed themselves and their families.
Valeria Gracia is the founder and president of Voluntario Global, an organization that brings together local volunteer initiatives in Latin America. Gracia says that her organization is active within villages outside Buenos Aires where many of the residents work as cartoneros. She says that the collecting jobs have become more organized since 2001-the beginning of the economic crisis in Argentina.
Problems with Picking
Gracia says that the bigger problem comes when children are involved in the waste picking. Working by night causes them to perform poorly in school, or drop out of school altogether. In some areas, childcare services are provided through the night, because their work as trash collectors is often the only thing that parents can do to support their families.
Buenos Aires residents say that the waste pickers are largely a welcome presence in the neighborhoods.
Cooperativa El Ceibo (which shares its name with the national flower of the country) is an organization that unites the “waste pickers” and emphasizes the importance of working to collect the materials during the day. A kind of union for the cartoneros of Buenos Aires, members of El Ceibo must abide by rules for behavior and assist members of the households with sorting the materials, making it easier to collect more recyclables quicker and gain a better profit for the group.
When citizens who work as cartoneros sign on to work with El Ceibo, they work alone or in groups of families. But they agree to collectively turn over the trash, recyclables and other goods that they collect for the entire group. At the end of a shift, that material is sold, and the money yielded is divided among all.
Ojedi says that this practice is generally unique to El Ceibo; many organizations that unify cartoneros offer collective selling services, but mostly only at night. She says she believes their organization is growing, in spite of the slowly decreasing numbers of cartoneros nationwide. Ojedi says this is because many cartoneros recongnize the economic benefits of collecting in groups.
“The idea was that this is a real job and working in good conditions, not in the street, with the garbage all mixed,” Bujo said. “In the recycling centers, they would only deal with plastic...they wouldn’t have to deal with mixed waste.”
However, the law came at a large price. Once implemented, the city would have to build the recycling facilities to employ the waste pickers. Buenos Aires Chief of Government Mauricio Macri revoked the Zero Waste Law not long afterwards.
Now, Bujo says, the amount of waste sent to landfills has skyrocketed, reaching two million tons last year.
“Today [the cartoneros] are the only ones who are recycling,” Bujo said. “The percentage of recycling in Buenos Aires is very low, around ten percent.
Kofoed says that mandated recycling could be a negative change for the cartoneros, taking away vital financial possibilities.
“They depend so much on it, it is their income,” Kofoed said. “By introducing official recycling, it would put a lot of people out of work.”