bottle on truck

We’ve been in BA for six weeks and during each of those weeks we’ve seen parked cars or pickups with large liquid-filled bottles on their hoods or roofs. At first it was just a curiosity, and we had fun trying to guess what was going on, but eventually the persistence of the sight made it clear to us that this was a custom, not an anomaly, and that we didn’t have a clue about the meaning of what we were looking at. This has been our experience with many things here.

Late the other night, we saw three CLIBA garbage men rip open the large green plastic bags that they had thrown into their truck, sort the recyclables, and put them into their own ‘for glass’ and ‘for can’ bags – presumably to sell off privately. (CLIBA is one of several private trucking companies that the city hires to pick up city waste and haul it to one of four CEAMSE landfills where it is sold by tonnage.) This is a system that has many interconnecting players in it, each of whom claim a certain proprietary ownership of the garbage – for garbage, we are learning, is a very, very big business here in BA. Four years ago, Mauricio Macri, the man who recently won the Mayoral election in BA, and who has a considerable commercial interest in garbage removal, accused the cartoneros of thievery because they were ‘stealing his garbage.’
Clibo Garbage Workers

We spent part of a day last week at the Bajo Flores Green Point, the first of five projected model centers that the municipal government and foreign investors are funding around the city. Each of these centers is run by and for the benefit of a different local cooperative – often a cartonero collective – and is supplied waste to sort and recycle by one of the private garbage hauling companies. Bajo Flores is supposed to receive garbage from some of the city’s 5-Star Hotels and apartment buildings over 19 stories, but it was pretty obvious to us that the center was working way below capacity. What was happening to the garbage along route? Though destined to Bajo Flores and the 40+ families who were working there, we learned later that the truckers or the hotel employees or the apartment building janitors were diverting it, and someone (who knows who?) was selling the recyclables on their own. There are lots of competitors for garbage and many people could profit making certain that Bajo Flores fails.
Working at Bajo FloresThe Price of WasteSorting Machine

Barrios de Pie (Barrios Stand Up or Barrios on your Feet) is a politically astute and powerful association of workers’ cooperatives across the country. Because they have an internal economy of sorts – one cooperative selling its goods or services to others – it is an appealing organization for us to work with. There would be no need to identify or create an outside market for the composite products. For instance, the Barrios de Pie collective that picks waste plastic from the riverbeds could clean it and sell it to the materials fabrication cooperative which could process it into building tiles which could be sold to the housing construction cooperative. And the hotpress that is needed to process the plastic could be manufactured by the machinists cooperative. This would be a tight scenario where the beneficiaries of the composite product or products could be easily identifiable throughout the supply chain. Dante, who works closely with Barrios de Pie, took us to La Vallol, where the housing construction cooperative is working on building the first 16 of 180 projected homes. We wanted to look at the housing construction to see if there was any potential need for the composite tiles, but nothing was going on at the site – there was really no one to talk with. A few homes – partially finished – stood, and a few foundations were poured and ready for construction, but there were no workers around to work. The housing cooperative, which had won a contract from the government to build the homes, hadn’t been paid the money needed to buy the materials so work was at a standstill. Were we simply looking at a bureaucratic snafu?
Barrios de Pie Building Project

The bottles? Oh yes, they mean that the vehicle is for sale.