Who’s behind Basura Cero?

By bogotapost March 22, 2015
Bogota Recycling, Colombia Environment

Basura Cero, Bogotá Photo: Nick Ibister

Rubbish collectors: you see them every day on the streets of Bogota, and to many of the city’s residents the work they do is no different from panhandling on the street corner. But thanks to a Basura Cero (Zero Rubbish) initiative, some of the city’s rubbish collectors are seeing their jobs become formalised. Laura Sharkey talks to Ines, a Bogota rubbish collector

Ines has worked in rubbish collection for more than 18 years, but began working for the Bogota Basura Cero campaign just over a year ago. She walks the streets of Bogota with her cart five days a week, collecting from Calle 34 to 72. Her day begins at 4:30am when she leaves her house in the centre of the city for the beginning of her shift at 5:15. Apart from a 30 minute break, she works through until 2pm. She is paid $79,000 COP for each ton of rubbish she collects, plus a $14,000 COP fee.

Ines’ job is part of an initiative created by Bogota Humana in 2012 to promote cultural awareness of recycling, waste reduction and consumption among Bogota’s residents, which will run until 2016. Her story is typical of many who are employed by the government as rubbish collectors. We spoke to her about what she thought of the project.

Is the promotion of recycling part of your everyday job duties?

I wouldn’t say every day, but there are certain events that we do which are focused on recycling. Like last November when we all went to Plaza Bolivar. I think that made people think about what we are trying to do with recycling.

(On 12 November 2014, over 4,000 recyclers marched to Plaza Bolivar to support the Basura Cero programme and raise awareness of recycling in general).

Bogota Recycling, Colombia Environment, Basura Cero

Photo: Nick Ibister

Do you think there is an increased awareness in the city about how and what to recycle?

I don’t know. I mean, for example, you go to a tienda and order a Coca Cola or some crisps and everything has so much packaging. I don’t know if people know that they can recycle that. Surely it is better to buy a big bottle of Coca Cola that comes in a plastic bottle rather than three separate ones. I just don’t think people think about these things.

Do you think there is more rubbish now than when you started working?

There is definitely less rubbish. When I worked in Ibague, the pavements were surrounded by empty packets, bottles and other rubbish. Now there isn’t the same level. I don’t know whether I could say that for the whole of Bogota but it is definitely true for the part where I work.

Why do you think there is less rubbish in general?

One thing I have noticed is that the young people, the students, they definitely don’t drop as much litter as the office workers. I think that is strange, but then again, my daughter who is 8 years old knows more about it than I do and I have been working in recycling for 18 years.

By Laura Sharkey