Thursday, March 1, 2012

Marching for the Right to Recycle

A couple who make their living by scavenging and recycling in the march today on Plaza Bolivar. 

Only a small proportion of Bogotá's garbage gets recycled, and most of that by informal scavengers who search thru the trash for anything they can sell. Today, hundreds of them protested on Plaza Bolivar against new laws which they fear would end their livelihood.

Protesters ride a colorful bus past the Cathedral. 
Today, Bogotá has an inefficient recycling system which rips open garbage bags and scatters their contents over streets and sidewalks. Some recyclers leave piles of trash smoldering in alleys and on streetcorners, poisoning our air. And, associated with recycling is theft, as some scavengers grab sewer lids and telephone wire to sell the metal they contain.

The marchers' banner denounces
the law closing the scrap dealers. 
There've been many attempts to formalize the system by handing it over to a big business, which would presumably raise standards and work more efficiently. Most notoriously, a few years ago then-Pres. Alvaro Uribe's sons tried to set up such a businees, but backed off amidst lots of negative publicity about these children of privilege taking away the livelihoods of thousands of poor people.

A scavenger marches with his cart,
a common sight in Bogotá. 
A few years ago, the city opened a pilot recycling processing center. But neighbors objected and I haven't heard anything about it recently.

For all of the recycling industry's inefficiency, it also provides livelihoods for many thousands of impoverished families. Today's marchers protested a decree which would shutter the scrap dealers who buy the materials they scavenge.

Another common Bogotá sight:
scattered trash, often smoldering. 
Perhaps it's a fantasy to hope that the city can find a way to make recycling more formal and efficient while also providing jobs to the same people now doing recycling on their own. I've often wondered why police don't simply do sting operations by having undercover agents offer illegal objects like sewer lids to the scrap dealers, who would be shut down if they purchased.

The city also plans to educate residents about how to separate their trash into different recycling categories. Within a few years, officials boast, nearly all of the city's trash will be recycled.

That's as big a fantasy, of course, as Bogotá's completely failed plan to get businesses and

consumers to use fewer plastic bags.

This man's sign says 'Excuse us for scattering trash
 on your sidewalk. We are changing and will set an example.'
Both of these environmentally positive initiatives will succeed only if people find it in their interest to participate - either because of financial rewards or fines and taxes for not participating. (That's why the city needs to place a tax on plastic bags, as Ireland has done very successfully.)

Related posts:

Manuel's Recycled Nativity Scene

A Toxic Assault on Bogotá's Breathers

The Zorreros Fight for their Way of Life

This recycler protested with his cart and dogs. 
A recycling family's kid in the colorful bus. 

Yes to the right to work!

A man carries a sign protesting a decree which would close junk dealerships. 

A recycler's cart outside a junk buyer's shop in the Santa Fe neighborhood. 

A scavenger at work on Calle 13. 

Another scavenger at work with his cart near the Central Cemetery. 
Recycling bins in Bogotá's National Park. Despite their labels, all three contain random trash. 

Most likely, little of this trash will be recycled. 
The city also plans to prohibit the horsecarts used by many scavengers'.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

What's up, Mike? I love this report. What a mess! I remember, 25 years ago, while as a single man, living in a small apartment, on calle 72 con carrera 24. Every Tuesday was a hassle. The recycling people would open the garbage bags to take the recycle items, or empty the garbage cans with the same purpose. It was REALLY bad. Again, I think the problem of my country is to learn the notion of being organized and efficient. However, I know we can.
By the way, where did you take shot #19? I really liked it. Which street is that?
See ya Mike, keep in touch,
Mauricio Forero

Miguel said...

Hi Mauricio,

I'm glad that you like the entry, and thanks for the comment.

Do you mean the photo of the recycler's cart? I'm not sure where i took that one and I couldn't recognize the street, unfortunately.