Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Trash of Buenos Aires

Spend a night out in Buenos Aires, and soon enough you notice that the streets are filled with trash. It's as if there are no garbage cans here and people simply throw the refuse out of their windows. Or perhaps raccoons are lurking in the shadows, popping up when your head is turned to rip through the garbage. The truth is that people called cartoneros are going through the garbage, looking for cardboard and anything else that they can reuse or sell.

Though garbage collection comes almost daily here, it never seems to be enough. Before the sun even goes down, on my way home from work at 6:30 pm, you can already see people going through them. I even see their children playing in the garbage. Tough times hit hard, and many people who are underemployed or unemployed use this as a means of survival. I've even heard that people will wait outside of fast food restaurants for the unsold bread and hamburger patties, and then sell those in the poorest neighborhoods.

URI Dumpster Diving 2007-05-12 by brandonedens.
The problem is that the cartoneros will rip open the garbage bags before the collection trucks come, throwing everything aside in the street with no regard for sanitary conditions. And once they finish, the sidewalks are totally littered and disgusting. This creates a serious problem for health in the city, as well as for the people who are doing it. And I can't even imagine what it will do for the children who grow up in this way.

Dumpster diving is something of a fad in the United States, whereby people who can afford to buy food choose to collect food in dumpsters, either to save money or to use food that would otherwise go to waste. But there's a big difference between purposely putting yourself in that situation and being forced to do it because you have no money. In many cultures it is customary to reuse everything until the object is literally disintegrated, yet in many western nations we throw things away the second we don't want them anymore, regardless of their quality.

Argentina finds itself in an interesting crossroads, as a country that is very advanced and enjoys modernity. However, there is still that link to a culture that will use as much as it can while it can. Nonetheless, it truly destroys the allure of a city when you walk by and it looks like a hurricane went through Staples. But keep your eyes open and you might just find some lucky treasure in there for yourself.

Above: Photo by brandoneden

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