Global Challenge, Global Solutions: Formalizing Urban Recyclers

The City of Buenos Aires is provid­ing its once in­formal re­cyclers with formal re­cog­ni­tion as well as salar­ies, safety equip­ment, and a covered space to sort ma­ter­i­als.

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Formalizing Urban Recyclers in Buenos Aires


The City of Buenos Aires has launched an ini­ti­at­ive to provide salar­ies to “car­toneros,” or re­cyc­ling col­lect­ors, who re­move pa­per, card­board, and other re­cyc­lables from the city’s streets, and sell the ma­ter­i­als for a small profit. More than 5,000 cartoneros are part of the city’s scheme, re­ceiv­ing salar­ies of ap­prox­im­ately $400 a month and a mod­est pen­sion.

The deal was the res­ult of col­lab­or­a­tion between the city gov­ern­ment and car­toneros co­oper­at­ives. This re­cyc­ling col­lec­tion used to be clas­si­fied as il­legal, but now, collectors are provided with not only a formal salary but also protective equipment and a ded­ic­ated fa­cil­ity in which to sort col­lec­ted ma­ter­i­als. The new policy im­proves live­li­hoods of car­toneros, helps re­move lit­ter from Buenos Air­es’ streets, and pre­vents re­cyc­lable waste from end­ing up in land­fills.

The amount of waste sent to land­fill in the Ar­gen­tine cap­ital in­creased from 1.4 mil­lion tons in 2002 to 2.2 mil­lion tons in 2010.2 Faced with this loom­ing crisis, this scheme to form­al­ize re­cyclers is help­ing the city reach its goal of re­du­cing waste to land­fills by 83% by 2017.



Re­cyc­ling col­lec­tion on the city’s streets helps re­duce the amount of waste sent to land­fill.

The pro­gram of­fers car­toneros of­fi­cially re­cog­nized em­ploy­ment and greater re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ation for the ne­ces­sary work they do.

Car­toneros are now able to earn a more steady and re­li­able wage, and are no longer re­li­ant solely on the price they re­ceive for re-selling ma­ter­i­als.

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