A daily sight in Buenos Aires around dusk are the legions of cartoneros--the poor, often foreign (Bolivia, Paraguay) families that come into the city center and residential neighborhoods in order to pick through trash for cardboard (cartón), paper, plastic and glass. From the outskirts they often enter via the tren blanco (the "white train," a commuter train stripped of seats for this purpose), while those who live in the villas miserias (misery villages) pay a peso or so for a crew boss with a pickup to drive them. I've often wondered at the economics of the process--can a family (and the cartoneros often bring along their children to work) survive on doing this?--and what the practice says about the state of Argentina's economy. An article in Monday's La Nación provided details:
- 400,000 tons of cardboard and plastic are collected and sold annually.
- Cartoneros earn $70 million (pesos) annually selling it.
- By the time it's passed through middlemen and back into business, it's sold for $450 million (pesos).
- There are 20,000 cartoneros today, compared to 40,000 just after the 2001 crisis.
- 10,500 of them are officially registered with the government.
- Cartoneros get $0.45 pesos/kilo for white paper, $0.17-$0.20 for cardboard, $0.12 for newsprint, $0.25-$0.30 for plastic bottles and $0.07-$0.10 for glass.
- The neighborhood bosses who collect from the cartoneros add 20% to the price before they sell the bulk to larger recycling collectors, who add another 100% before they sell it to paper mills as raw material, who themselves sextuple the price when they turn it into finished products that they sell into the public market.