What my life would be like if I were (part two)…

… a Nicaraguan recycling worker.

I would wake up before dawn each day to get to the trash bags left out on the sidewalks before the trash trucks do. Nicaragua has no formal recycling system, instead hundreds of people make their living picking through other people’s trash to find pieces of recyclable material. On trash collection days it is common for us to hear people going through our trash and look out to see a man or child with a hug bag full of smashed plastic bottles or aluminum cans. According to an article from 2004 in one of Managua’s main newspapers, La Prensa, recyclers can get about 4 cents for a pound of plastic.

Whatever gets missed by ambulant trash sifters gets sorted out at Managua’s municipal dump, La Chureca. An estimated 10,000 people live in or around the dump and subsist by picking through trash for recyclable items to sell, material that they can re-use, and occasionally food to eat. This article gives the example of Ana Flores one of the thousands of workers in the municipal dump who on a good day can earn about $7 from selling the recyclable material that they collect, but the average Nicaraguan “Churequero” makes only about $2 a day. Check out our fellow MCCers (Kevin and Cassie Zonnefeld) blog post about the La Chureca dump.

A third recycling job involves collecting scrap metal. Trucks that seem like scrap metal themselves comb the city streets anouncing over portable loud speakers, “Scrap metal, scrap metal, we’re buying scrap metal. Old rims, old fans, old matresses.” Any unwanted piece of metal seems to be fair game. The scrap metal is then sold to recycling plants. In 2011, Nicaragua had an income of 60 million dollars from scrap metal exported as raw material.

This reality, people who struggle to survive day after day by going through my trash, has made me stop and think before I throw something away. Marisa and I have learned to bag up our plastic and aluminum seperately from our other trash to make it easier for people to collect. I now find myself pausing at the trashcan in our kitchen wondering if someone else will be able to use something that I have determined to be useless.

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One Comment on “What my life would be like if I were (part two)…”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    The system in Albania is similar. There it’s usually Roma families who do this work. I never really got used to it.


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