In a few hours we’re off to INTI to participate in what is surely our final Waste-for-Life meeting before leaving Buenos Aires. We’ve already begun saying goodbye to our many compañeros, a word that after 6 months of learning and struggling here has real meaning for us and is not at all embarrassing to use. And though this may be our last meeting, it is really a first because we are bringing together in one place all of the players who will keep Waste-for-Life BA alive after we return to North America – representatives of the 9 cooperatives we’ve worked with since July 2007; Carlos Levinton from the University of Buenos Aires’ CEP; Gonzalo Roque from the Swiss NGO Avina, and Patricia Eisenberg’s INTI plastics group. (The only person who can’t make it today is Esteban Magnani from the micro-credit organization The Working World (La Base), who we met with yesterday and proposed a collaboration scenario which he enthusiastically endorsed.)
We’ve just returned from the INTI meeting, and the collective engagement, commitment and emotion caught us pretty much off guard. We had clearly handed over Waste-for-Life to the local stakeholders and could feel OK about going home. There was a single moment in that research laboratory, amidst the hotpress and all of the other grayish green testing equipment, and all those people who had such different stories to tell, but each of whom had been drastically affected in one way or another by the last decade of Argentinean history, when it became crystal clear why we were here doing what we were doing. Adam Guevara talked about what he had learned from the INTI scientists and how it had changed the life, yes, the lives of the 20+ members of Renacer Lanzone, the civic association that he runs. These people collect and separate and sort plastic, which is a stinking job, and a couple of INTI scientists from Patricia’s plastics group had spent time with them, some time ago, teaching the group how to do their job better by being more precise in their classifications and, thus, in their separation and sorting processes. Adam’s group, whose members come from the shantytowns across the highway from the huge CEAMSE dump, took these lessons seriously, and now are able to sell their plastic for 2-4 times as much money as any other recycling group we’ve met. It was Adam’s first opportunity to thank the INTI scientists, which he did with great dignity, and which sent some of them out of the room in embarrassed, unexpected tears.