Trash sources Life (T=L) is a CIVISOL project for systemic change. The situation in the field that we believe needs a permanent and thorough change is the historic exploitation of people living in poverty and surviving day after day from waste picking. Hard working people who earn their living by scavenging others people’s trash looking for valuable materials to sort, prepare, and carry to the corporate manufacturing industry and/ or to their networks of middlemen who manage private stockpiles of recyclables. These profit seeking actors of the shadow economy operate at the margins of public hygiene and city sanitation who, treating waste as commodities only, have been demanding and buying kilos of waste for a few cents from the poorest of the urban poor, who extract and recover for them dry and clean recyclable waste material that they capture out of the municipally managed waste streams. Instead of being disposed of in municipal waste facilities such as sanitary landfills or municipal material recovery facilities, recyclable waste that is recovered ends rerouted towards the private industrial production lines and supply chains of manufacturing businesses of all sizes and origins, national or multinational. Waste pickers, young and old men, women and children, seeking to earn a meager survival recover recyclables as “gold” crumbs out from the public waste streams of cities in the global south, sort and prepare them wherever they can find space , be it a city park or the curbside of a street, and then transport them on their shoulders, old horses, or hand-pulled carts to feed the supply and production lines of private businesses; recycling companies, waste traders, and manufacturing factories operating on the “recovered” material taken out of the public service streams, which are paid from citizens’ pockets in the form of annual tax or recurrent fees..

The public waste extracted and rerouted through the exploitative labor of waste pickers to private business is used as secondary commodities in the cardboard, plastic, glass, or paper industries. The recycled goods are greenwashed as virtuous products for new consumption, in line with the environmentalist evangelization of the masses.

The situation CIVISOL seeks to change is the exploitation of the vulnerable waste picker population by a global waste business, and the opacity and silence surrounding local waste and sanitation reforms that makes it possible. A situation that normalizes the human exploitation of vulnerable populations in the global south and allows corporate interests to free ride at the expense of the publicly financed city sanitation, while deregulation waste management for enabling unfair competition, exploitative labor, and the monopolization of the value extracted from waste. This is not only an unethical and unfair situation but moreover a dangerous one. Veiling massive operations of import-export of global waste as new commodities, the constant shipping from municipalities and ports of the global south to corporate lines of production and manufacturing factories for businesses around the world, with the most powerful ones found in the industrialized north, increases carbon emissions instead of reducing them and accelerates global warming instead of preventing it as the recycling economy promises.

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