We’ve been quiet on these pages (though not on the ground) for many months. Cooperativa Nueva Mente continues to manufacture and sell products with the hotpress and now conducts weekly training sessions for a youth group led by a local ceramics teacher. We keep in touch, but are no longer needed to support their projects. Hence no blog posts, which is exactly the way it should be. We’ve been busy with a feasibility study for a new project in South Asia and continue working with university students on design and technology projects that support our work. Details about what’s been going on in Lesotho are for another post. This writing hiatus has given us time to reflect upon Waste for Life’s impact during the past 6 years and plan our future activities and focus. The cycle of action reflection action should be familiar to anyone who has studied Friere and other participatory methodologies, and we certainly acknowledge those influences, especially ones that attempt to synthesize education and activism.

Impact assessment is always an elusive, multidimensional affair, and we won’t dress up this post with spurious numbers. For instance, we don’t know the tonnage of plastic we’ve been able to divert from incinerators, landfills or the oceans; neither do we know the number of engineering and design students who, after working alongside us, choose to practice their professions with a dedication to social and environmental norms over and above conventional profit or professional norms. How much extra income have people been able to generate by making composite materials from waste plastic and fibers? 10% more? 30%? 80%? We don’t know exactly. We do know that we’ve been able to introduce and nurture new capabilities, but whether they’ve been exercised enough to endure, and what the familial, social, and political ramifications of these ‘capacity strengthenings’ have been are still open questions. When scavengers stop being simply scavengers or urban recoverers (the preferred term in Argentina) and begin manufacturing to serve local needs, how does this affect the fabric of a neighborhood, the dynamics of its networks? And, perhaps, most importantly, how does one’s sense of oneself evolve when new abilities enable participation in public, positively sanctioned activities – activities that need not be hidden and are no longer eschewed?

These are important questions, and we have anecdotal responses to most of them, though no hard answers. But we do know for certain that the simple idea of reducing the damaging environmental impact of non-recycled plastic waste whilst promoting the self-sufficiency and economic security of people who depend upon waste to survive has worldwide traction. And central to our mission is another concept that we learned about from Adam Guevara at Renacer Lanzone: ‘Socializing Knowledge’. It’s what we practiced, but he gave us a name for it. We’ll teach you something, and when you’ve mastered it, you go on to teach it to others. It’s a simple idea that has nothing to do with competition, but with sharing and moving forward together. This is how solidarity networks are built and maintained and, perhaps, this is why Waste for Life’s footprint appears in unexpected places. Some recent examples…

Morón Eco-Parc Inauguration

Armed Robbery

We’ve previously written about the fragility of recycling cooperatives, always on the cusp of economic insolvency because of equipment breakdowns, or fires, or market fluctuations in the price of recyclables, or family illnesses, even sabotage – and the list goes on. We never, however, anticipated robbery as something to be concerned about. Until now, that…


This is the number of households in Morón, the Buenos Aires suburb, from which members of cooperativa Nueva Mente collect the weekly rubbish that they then separate, sort, and sell to recycling middlemen. Until about 1 month ago this figure described a daily routine, but then it occurred to us that it also represented a…

Ontario Centre for Engineering and Public Policy features Waste for Life

Erica Lee, engineer and WFL project manager in Buenos Aires for 5 1/2 months during 2010-2011, has written a wonderful article reflecting upon the experience for the Ontario Centre for Engineering and Public Policy. As a volunteer project manager for educational non-profit organization Waste for Life, Erica Lee oversaw the implementation of a simple manufacturing…

Water Catchment

While the Nueva Mente/Contenido Prensado group in Buenos Aires have been investigating new markets and designs for their trashbins – including domestic and industrial indoor models – Sarah Seitz, at Queens University, has been experimenting with building materials and has produced an entire water catchment system from waste vapor barrier plastic reinforced with cheese cloth….

Pictures from Nueva Mente

The last post pictured a ‘final prototype’ of the trashbins that the youth group at Cooperativa Nueva Menta are producing for the Municipality of Moròn. Clients being what they are, the design has been modified, and these are the actual bins being readied for delivery … after a green and white paint job that’s taking…

A Formidable Achievement

The final bin prototype (before a final coat of paint) commissioned by the Municipality of Moròn from Cooperativa Nueva Mente. 50 bins to be used around the new Reserva Natural de Municipio de Moròn. A formidable achievement indeed.

Exciting News from Nueva Mente

During the past month, Nueva Mente cooperative members ventured out of Morón and took their wares to two fairs or ferias: the Feria Puro Diseño and the Feria del Cooperativismo. This was a first attempt at selling the products (mostly wallets) they had manufactured using the hotpress, and every single product was sold, which is…

ASME features Waste for Life

The redesigned American Society of Mechanical Engineers website launched with an article about ‘engineering a better world’ that features Waste for Life, and the author does a fine job pulling together many of the ideas that drive WFL’s practices. Click here to read.

Waste for Life is a loosely joined network of scientists, engineers, educators, designers, and cooperatives working together to develop poverty-reducing solutions to specific ecological problems.