Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sifting through the Trash

It's not unusual to hear the clip clop of horse hooves below from our living room window. Some of the poorest people of Montevideo (who likely live in the suburbs) go around from garbage bin to garbage bin searching for trash to collect.

Sometimes it's men collecting garbage. Sometimes it's women. Sometimes it's teenagers. And sometimes it's children. I think it's heartbreaking to see a 5 year old child riding in a wagon, waiting for his big brother to finish diving in the big green dumpster nearby. What kind of future will these children have?

The quantity of horse drawn garbage collectors is surprisingly high for a modern day capital city. Haggard horses pulling rotting wooden carts trot by while cars zoom past them on 4 lane highways. They seem strangely out of place, yet many low income families have resorted to scavenging for trash as a primary source of income.

On the brighter side of things (if there is a brighter side), these trash-sifters take care of most of the city's recycling. For example, we don't have a means to recycle near our house, so we put all of our empty plastic containers in a seperate bag for garbage sorters to come through and collect them with greater ease. We feel this is the most likely way that our shampoo bottles and coca cola liters will get resold and reused. They provide an important public service in this regard.

The situation for the trash sifters isn't always completely bad (not to diminish the real hardships that come hand in hand with poverty). One of the most absurd things I've seen thus far is a man driving his horse and cart piled full of refuse while talking on his cell phone. His cell phone! The irony is striking.

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