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Cartoneros, Catadores, Pepenadores:

Grassroots Recyclers in Latin America

Cartonera books are made from salvaged cardboard, purchased from urban grassroots recyclers known in Argentina as cartoneros, a term from the Spanish word cartón (cardboard). In Brazil they are called catadores and in Mexico, pepenadores.

In 2001, a severe financial crisis hit Argentina and other parts of Latin America. There was widespread social and political unrest, and unemployment reached 20%. Many took to the streets to survive, and the number of people who recycled cardboard and other waste materials for a living rose

It is estimated that up to 3.8 million people in Latin America make a living, partially or in full, from recycling waste, especially cardboard and paper. In Brazil, they are responsible for collecting between 10 and 20% of urban solid residues, and 90% of all recyclables in that country (paper, glass, metal) are collected by catadores and catadoras (female recyclers).

Nowadays, in Brazil, one kilo of recycled cardboard sells for BRL$0.30 (about 8 Canadian cents). To make a minimum salary of BRL$1,300 a month (about $350 Canadian), a catador needs to recycle about 4 tonnes of cardboard.