Blog Action Day: Cartoneros in Buenos Aires

Photo Credit: salvoguille

Picking up a hefty six litros of water from my corner store, I see a sight common to me on the streets of Buenos Aires after dusk. There is a six year old breaking down boxes and sifting through garbage on the sidewalk. She and her family work quietly, going through the street garbage in search of recyclables in order to make money. These “cartoneros” take trains to the Buenos Aires center from at least an hour outside of the city and pile up materials in carts to take back out. Most work during the night–it’s a frenetic pace to get as many goods stuffed into their giant bags as possible. Many men pull hand drawn carts throughout the streets, dodging collectivos and cars. In 2005, La Nacion reported that the cartoneros earn 250 pesos per month, less than $100 U.S.

As people often do with the poor, residents look down and pretend not to see them. It seems in bad taste to look at them or acknowledge the sadness of their work. The cartoneros never ask for anything; they are merely doing their job on the streets. It can be hard to find work in Argentina. The work is dangerous, as who knows what they find as they look through the trash–toxins, needles, glass? 

I have felt helpless in my capacity to help the cartoneros or other Argentines living with little money or resources. Perhaps some of the Argentina dwellers (or others) have some ideas how to respond or support area charities? For those outside of Buenos Aires, how do you work to combat poverty in your part of the world? Blog Action Day 2008 provides some ideas on how we can react to poverty and make a difference.

Take a look at this short documentary on the cartoneros’ work: Cartoneros Documentary.



Filed under Argentina

8 responses to “Blog Action Day: Cartoneros in Buenos Aires

  1. I once had a Spanish instructor (Argentine) tell me being a cartonero was a profession. I can hardly see that. At one point just after the economic collapse the poverty rate in Argentina was above 50% and no one knows what it really is now. The ranks of the cartoneros swelled after the collapse and many no longer live outside of Buenos Aires, but close at hand. Take a look down any rail road tracks when you walk by or in the corners under the freeway bridges. Or right behind Retiro.

    I don’t know yet of any central plan to help relieve poverty in this country. It appears, through he actions of INDEC and the gov’t – both national and here in Buenos Aires – that there is an effort to ignore it. Globally we get kind of used to it, right? Seeing the same people on the street, the same cardboard, plywood, tarped houses that it becomes part of the scenery and lifestyle.

    We forget to look.

    That’s the horror. Sure, recycling is great and they get a little money for their work, but that is not a full-time job!

  2. btw… sorry it took me so long to read your post. I was frantically trying to make up for my lack of editing when I had plenty of time… so I could post today.

    check it out when you can.

  3. Thank you for the post on this important subject and what we can do links.

  4. You know that the “white train” was taken out of commission for the cartoneros about a year ago. This is the train that would take them with their bounty back out to the provinces.
    Now a huge moving van comes with their “dollies” for lack of a better word at a meeting point. I imagine in the wee hours of the morning they load up everything on the truck again and head back out to the provinces.

    I’d bet they have to pay more middle men to take them into the city now.

  5. Mom

    How terribly sad!! Makes me count my blessings. But from a socio-economic view, no matter what I think there will always be a lower income people.

  6. I’ve been enjoying your blog! This post really caught my attention. I’d never heard of this before, but I am not really surprised. It does leave me with a heavy heart. Such dangerous, and in many ways demeaning work, as so often is the case, when unemployment is high and the economy delicate, no one is safe, and you are unemployed be you PhD candidate, baker or accountant. While we can’t erase all the ills of this capitalist-driven machine, we can always do more than we’re doing. Thanks for calling my attention to this.

    Thanks, Shelly! I often wonder how many jobs these people have. They possibly work through the day and night with a couple hours sleep.

  7. Pingback: Cartoneros « Up Up And Away

  8. Pingback: Xenophobia and racism against Chinese and Koreans in Argentina « The Plaid Bag Connection

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