Waste for Life

Exhibition: Network | December 2, 2011 by

During the severe 2001–2 economic crisis in Argentina, poverty levels rose and an increasing number of Argentineans struggled to survive. Nearly 100,000 people began scavenging waste from the streets as their sole source of income. Although the number of collectors in Argentina has dropped over the past decade, scavengers (cartoneros in Spanish) still play an active role in the country’s economy. Despite the fact that the collection and sale of recyclable waste generates much needed income and contributes to a more efficient waste-management system, informal waste collection is stigmatized and collectors are often marginalized within society. Lacking political representation, cartoneros are subject to the whims of local government, which vacillates between seeking solutions to incorporate them into the formal workforce and making them invisible by banning their activities. Waste for Life, a network of scientists, engineers, educators, architects, artists, designers, and cooperatives, partners with cartoneros to develop poverty-reducing solutions that incorporate a manufacturing stream into the collection, sorting,  and selling of waste. Using scientific and technological knowledge, Waste for Life adds value to discarded plastics by upcycling them with natural fibers, creating composite materials that can be used to make in household products and building materials. In addition to generating a new, more reliable income source, Waste for Life frees the cartoneros from a dependency on the global commodities market, reduces the damaging environmental impact of plastic, and promotes self-sufficiency and economic sustainability.

Founders: Caroline Baille and Eric Feinblatt; collaborators: architects from the Centro Experimental Para la Producción (UBA), led by Carlos Levinton; designers from Masekos, led by Angeles Estrada Vigil; engineers from the University of Western Australia, led by Caroline Baillie; designers and artists from Rhode Island School of Design, led by Charlie Cannon; engineers from Brown University, led by Chris Bull; engineers and architects from Queens University, led by Darko Matovic; engineers from the University of Naples, led by Ignazio Visconti; engineers from Imperial College, led by Peter Childs; engineers from the National University of Lesotho, led by Thimothy Thame; engineers from Lerotholi Polytechnic Lesotho, led by Ntate Joseph Thaba. Lesotho, 2006–present; Argentina 2007–present



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