The Economist Gets It

Waste disposal in Colombia

Entrepreneurs, not scavengers

Muck and brass plates

Jun 11th 2009 | CALI
From The Economist print edition (no byline, per Economist standards)

Thank goodness! There is sanity in the press!!! It's a bloody first, an article that says something different than "coffee boycott" for the scrap industry. After the tragic slap at the Coptic Christian scavengers in Egypt during the "swine flu" (government execution of all their pigs), the Columbian court system stands up for the concept of "e-scrap" not "e-waste", and distinguishes between commodity and pollution.


Until a decade ago, policymakers across the developing world saw informal waste collectors as a problem and worried about “how to get rid of them”, says Martin Medina, who has written a book on the subject. Today, he says, they are realising that when wastepickers receive support, their co-operatives are “a perfect example of sustainable development”. Brazil’s labour ministry has recognised informal waste collection as a legitimate trade.

Ricaurte Larrahondo, who has worked for 42 years sorting rubbish at Cali’s Navarro dump, cheered as lawyers explained the Constitutional Court’s ruling to hundreds of wastepickers gathered on a hoopless basketball court in the city on June 7th. “We’ve always been entrepreneurs, but no one ever recognised that,” he said.

Now comes the hard part. Ms Lasso, like most wastepickers, cannot read or write. To function as entrepreneurs, she and her colleagues will have to organise themselves. That in turn means overcoming longstanding feuds between street pickers and former dump pickers. In Cali they have only three months to sort themselves out before the new tender begins. It may not be enough time.

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