Waste disposal in Colombia: Muck and brass plates

Monday, June 15, 2009

Entrepreneurs, not scavengers

FOR more than 20 years Carmen Lasso has scrabbled a living of sorts for herself and her eight children by scavenging at a rubbish dump in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. Her life has brought the occasional pleasant surprise, such as the silver ring crowned with a tiny light-blue stone that she gleaned from the trash, and now wears. Another came in April when Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled that she and tens of thousands of her fellow wastepickers should be officially recognised as “entrepreneurs”.

The ruling has a practical effect. The court ordered Cali’s city government to suspend the tender for a waste-management concession to give co-operatives of recicladores, as they are known, time to organise themselves and bid for the contract. The dump they worked at was shut down last year, as part of a reorganisation of waste disposal that has already seen three contracts given to private firms.

Adriana Ruiz, the lawyer who represented the wastepickers, argued that taking away their access to garbage violated their right to livelihood and life. She also challenged a new national law under which wastepickers can be fined up to the equivalent of $500 for sorting through trash in public places. The court ruled that future waste-disposal contracts “should favour and try to preserve the status of wastepickers as self-employed entrepreneurs”. The judges also suspended the fines levied by Cali’s municipal government for sorting rubbish in public.

Source: The Economist (link opens in a new window)