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Yale University

Publication Date

Fall 12-1-2014

Program Name

Argentina: Regional Integration, Development, and Social Change


Historically, a survival method for the most impoverished populations of developing countries has been the collection, accumulation, and sale of recycled materials accessible in the urban waste generated by large metropolitan areas. After Argentina’s economic crisis of 2001, the number of people who participate in this informal sector of work in Greater Buenos Aires boomed due to the financial recession that devastated the country. In the last fourteen years, the population of urban recyclers, colloquially called cartoneros or cirujas, has not diminished. Various advances have been made towards the legitimation of their work as environmental protection and recycling through their incorporation in cooperatives, some of which are recognized by the state. In spite of these successes, new laws and public policies of the city of Buenos Aires suffer from faults in their planning and implementation because they legally penalize urban recyclers who work independently to separate, classify, and sell recyclables without forming part of a large-scale cooperative. In addition, the relationships between such cooperatives in the city and the province of Buenos Aires are precarious under the best of circumstances. In this vein, the objective of this study is to evaluate the consequences of recent social and environmental legislation, known as “Green City,” for the urban recyclers of the region. Accordingly, the following research question will be addressed: How has the identity of urban recyclers in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires changed as a result of recent legislation, such as the law “Zero Waste” in 2005, and what is their relationship with the new public policies known as “Green City?” In other words, what does it mean to work as an urban recycler to carry out an environmentally “green” agenda? Through a thorough literature review on urban waste management in Latin America and a series of semi-structured interviews with urban recyclers, it becomes clear that “Green City” has realized some advancement in the protection of the environment and improvement of the labor conditions for the urban recyclers. However, the general public of Buenos Aires lacks a sufficient awareness of need to recycle, and greater collaboration between the city and provincial governments is necessary to generate a widespread positive impact on this marginalized population of Greater Buenos Aires.


Behavioral Economics | Economic History | Environmental Policy | Environmental Studies | Growth and Development | International and Area Studies | Labor Economics | Latin American Studies | Regional Economics | Social and Behavioral Sciences


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