Saturday, October 23, 2010


I went to put out the trash just now, 10:30 on a Saturday night, and as I go to drop a bundle of cardboard on the sidewalk I hear "No no no no!" I turn around and this guy, socializing with the neighbors, reaches for the bundle, saying "What, you're just going to throw it away?"

I give him the cardboard, thinking, but not pointing out to him, that I have neatly separated my trash into a) a bag of plastic bottles, b) a bag of food scraps and other non-recyclables, and c) the aforementioned bundle of cardboard. You'd think we have curb-side recycling here in Salvador, but we do not.

The reason I do this is because we do have recycling here, even though it is essentially unsupported by the city government. It is market driven. Cardboard, plastic bottles, and especially aluminum are collected by 'entrepreneurs' because they can be resold. These entrepreneurs tend to be folks who don't have other work, including a lot of homeless folks, although lots of people will casually collect empty cans to make a few extra reis.

There's a reason why I separate my trash, and also a reason why I put it out at this hour, when I think the dump truck is likely to pass by. Actually there's two reasons. One is to be a nice guy, and help out the people who might want the stuff. The other reason is so that my trash bag doesn't get ripped open by people after the recyclables inside. I've put out bags of trash and had four or more people go through them over the course of a few hours; I've also had the remaining trash strewn across the sidewalk and street in front of my house. Putting out trash cans is out of the question- they'd vanish in an instant.

There's something that appeals to me about the organic nature of the recycling here, things are recycled because they really have value, not just because it's 'the right thing to do,' although I agree with that sentiment. Personally, I think that trash is going to have a lot more real value in the years to come, even in wealthy countries where people are known to throw out working TVs and such. I think that will be a good thing too.

I titled this post 'trash' but I really should have called it 'recycling.' I could write a lot about trash in this city, this dirty, stinky, trash-filled, rodent-infested city, but I won't. Except to say that I think the trash problem has gotten worse in recent years. Brazilians I know tell me it's the fault of the current city government- I woldn't know about that. I've also heard it will probably get cleaned up before the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I'm getting a feeling about this World Cup thing. I think it may be a convergence, a wave of good things that will crest here in Salvador and other host cities in Brazil. It may be the perfect wave to catch, and use the resulting momentum to fling me the hell out of here.


markuza said...

I wrote this post on Saturday night. Today, actually just now, I read an article on the New York Times website about an artist named Vik Muniz who works with trash, and the informal recycling 'system' done by catadores, who I referred to as entrepreneurs in the post. Check out the article.

Nina said...

I also seperate my trash for the same reasons. But I love art and supplies are really limited for my income. So now I use certain things I would usually throw away from projects. For example, I am working on an egg carton light installation in my kitchen. Living in Brazil has changed all my art. I think it is good. I am less wasteful.

Rachel said...

I save good cardboard for my kids to paint on. And we put poop diapers in their own bags in the trash so that people searching through won't get a nasty little surprise.

markuza said...

I was recently contacted by Artsy regarding Vik Muniz, who is the undisputed king of Brazilian trash. If you don't know his work you should check it out.