Formalizing Urban Recyclers

The City of Buenos Aires is providing its once informal recyclers with formal recognition as well as salaries, safety equipment, and a covered space to sort materials.

The City of Buenos Aires has launched an initiative to provide salaries to “cartoneros,” or recycling collectors, who remove paper, cardboard, and other recyclables from the city’s streets, and sell the materials for a small profit. More than 5,000 cartoneros are part of the city’s scheme, receiving salaries of approximately $400 a month and a modest pension.<sup>1</sup> The deal was the result of collaboration between the city government and cartoneros cooperatives. This recycling collection used to be classified as illegal, but now, collectors are provided with not only a formal salary but also protective equipment and a dedicated facility in which to sort collected materials. The new policy improves livelihoods of cartoneros, helps remove litter from Buenos Aires’ streets, and prevents recyclable waste from ending up in landfills.

Relevance of solution

The amount of waste sent to landfill in the Argentine capital increased from 1.4 million tons in 2002 to 2.2 million tons in 2010.2 Faced with this looming crisis, this scheme to formalize recyclers is helping the city reach its goal of reducing waste to landfills by 83% by 2017.3

Triple Bottom Line


Recycling collection on the city’s streets helps reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.


The program offers cartoneros officially recognized employment and greater respect and appreciation for the necessary work they do.


Cartoneros are now able to earn a more steady and reliable wage, and are no longer reliant solely on the price they receive for re-selling materials.


  1. The Guardian. “The New Generation of Buenos Aires Trash Pickers Reenergizing Recycling in the Capital.” ( 2016.)
  2. United Nations Environment Programme. “Workshop on ‘Guidelines for the Development, Update and Reviewing of National Waste Management Strategies’.” (2013.)
  3. C40. “Buenos Aires – Solid Urban Waste Reduction Project.” (2014.)
  4. Photo © Dan DeLuca (Undated.)