Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I recently returned from a trip to Buenos Aires, which  is most popularly known for its Tango dancers, and great steaks.  What I didn’t know about was its unusual and perhaps controversial system for recycling.  Here is what I saw and was verified by a number of my Argentinian contacts.

Every late afternoon into the evening, thousands of very casually dressed people, wheel their shopping carts and trolley down the streets of B.A. sorting through the trash.  There are three basic groups: the bottle/glass collectors; the metal collectors and the paper collectors (called cartones.)  The cartones  open up plastic trash bags looking for all sorts of paper products but mostly fold up the large cardboard cartons that small businesses leave out on the side walk.

Each group (and in some cases a group is made up of family members from three generations) has its own streets and blocks that  it has claimed, so the territorial boundaries have been set and are handed down to the next generation.

The cartones are a separate working class group.  They live in the shanty towns outside the city and come into town via special trains just for them to accommodate their trolleys and shopping carts. The trains do not stop at the regular train platforms where folks are coming into town for their office and retail shop jobs.  These are windowless trains brought out of retirement, reserved just for the cartones.

And what was my response?  Compassion? Sympathy? Outrage? At first, yes.  And then I thought, “how amazing!”  The cartones have built an industry that creates jobs and at the same time addresses environmental concerns.  How strange.  Am I outraged at a government that allows this or am I impressed at the resourcefulness of a group of people that had no jobs before. Outrage or resourcefulness?  Outrage or resourceful? What do you think?

Carol J. Trust

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