By Verónica Dalto
Buenos Aires, Jul 20 (EFE).- Rather than pulling a trash cart down the street, some of Argentina’s waste cardboard collectors have in recent years found greater success by turning to collectives.
The pandemic has prompted a growing number of people to begin waste collecting in Argentina but it has also given fresh impetus for workers to enter the formal economy.
Argentina’s cardboard collector and recycler federation (FACCyR) said the number of people looking to earn money by collecting paper waste in the country had increased by 200,000 because of the pandemic, up from roughly 140,000 before the health crisis. The majority are women.
“New cardboard collectors have come along because they have lost their jobs,” Jaqui Flores, from the FACCyR cooperative, told Efe.
Around 20,000 recyclers are in the formal economy, meaning they have left behind their heavy carts, which cause health problems such as spinal injuries, according to Flores.
Informal cardboard collectors — or cartoneros as they are known in Argentina — are often exploited by companies that use them for their cheap labor, something the authorities turn a blind eye to.
Those who manage to leave the informal street work behind come to work at recycling plants, where they separate material on conveyor belts.
“If we hadn’t gone through a pandemic, which heavily affected many colleagues trying to raise awareness about our sector, we would now have achieved higher standards. The pandemic tore us down,” said Flores.
Since March 2020, the cooperative has gone through periods of not being allowed to work at all to working within a reduced timeframe because of pandemic rules.
“We are now getting back into it but it’s like starting from scratch,” said Cristina Lescano, who like Flores, has gone from picking through trash, known colloquially as surgery, to leading a cooperative of workers, called El Ceibo.
For these cooperative leaders, the foremost goal is to ensure that the cardboard collectors work in a dignified environment.
FACCyR, which has representatives at a government level, is pushing for big waste producing companies to pay a tax from their earnings to help finance the formalization of the street recycling sector.
Despite the work yet to be done, the city of Buenos Aires is an oasis of cartonero cooperatives, while authorities want 80% of recyclable goods to be separated at home by 2023 compared to today’s 15%.
“In the rest of the country, it’s much more grotesque,” said Flores. “A mafia,” she added, saying that cardboard collectors face a huge amount of violence in their daily work. EFE