En español | Morning finds El Ceibo, a sprawling facility to sort recycled material, bustling with activity. "Our work is not to recycle material, it's to recycle people," says Cristina Lescano, founder of Buenos Aires's oldest cooperative of urban recyclers, known as cartoneros.
Nestor H. Barbitta
Since El Ceibo's inception, nine other recycling cooperatives have been established. But, says Maria Eugenia Testa of Greenpeace, "the way El Ceibo works is the way we originally thought the Zero Trash Law would work." El Ceibo, she says, is unique among the cooperatives because of its community education component.
Juan Pablo Piccardo, the city's minister of environment and public space, says Buenos Aires now has 6,000 registered recyclers. "The cartoneros program," he says, "means a better quality of life for the cartoneros and an improved recycling system."
Working with the government further professionalized El Ceibo's work, says Lescano: "We went from being outside society to being inside society, from illegal to legal. We are recognized as a socially responsible business."
Social responsibility doesn't come just from cleaning the city; it comes from changing the lives of the people who work for El Ceibo.
Julia Navarro, a stout woman with glistening brown eyes and weather-beaten skin the color of toffee, has been working with El Ceibo for ten years. Dressed in a uniform of midnight blue with bright-orange reflectors, she fearlessly pushes a cart that dwarfs her short frame as just inches away buses barrel down the narrow, leafy streets.