By Wednesday, day 10 of this visit to Buenos Aires, we were ready to visit the most important stake-holders of all: the cartonero co-operatives that will own and run the businesses that we are helping them start. Caroline and Eric had made contact with a community organizer and activist named Maria Virginia Pimental who works with cartoneros a few years prior (you can see her in our trailer too), and we hoped she would agree to help us run the pilot manufacturing run with the cartonero co-ops.
We arrived at the address she had given us, which was not an office but a recycling warehouse in the municipality of Morón at noon, after traveling most of the morning – this time on subway then train then taxi. We were greeted warmly by Simón, whose broad smile and running commentary punctuated our visit and much of the film footage we shot. Maria Virginia Pimental (whose initials MVP are appropriate in more ways than one!) was there as well, and she greeted us like old friends. After a few moments walking around the huge sorting warehouse looking at the bundles of cardboard, plastic, paper, glass and just about every other type of recyclable you can think of, with Simón supplying information about the commercial value of each product, (1 peso 50 – about 37 cents US/CA – for a kilogram of plastic shopping bags most notably), we went inside to talk about our project.
Since we last saw her, Maria Virginia has been busy organizing the neighbourhood to separate their recyclables from their garbages so that the co-operative she is working with (called Nueva Mente) can collect and sort them more easily. She has also been able to find markets for many recovered materials that previously had no commercial value. Despite Argentina’s rampant inflation (estimates and reports of which exceed 20%), the co-operative is functioning very successfully with 21 members doing the collecting and sorting and sharing the proceeds from what they sell. They have support from the municipality of Morón and an affiliation with a local youth group. We asked for some more information about life in the co-op so that we could use it for the baseline statistics in a grant application we are preparing, and then it was time for the fun stuff!
We took out the prototype wallets that we never leave the house without and explained that this was the product for which we had found a market and prepared some instructions – so we recommended it as a starting point for what they would manufacture. What did they think? We were really pleased to hear both Simón (who was representing the co-op Nueva Mente) and Maria Virginia express interest in making the wallet. ‘Just give me the job and I will do it’ Simón told us, sunny and determined.
They had other ideas for products too, which we exchanged in a mix of Spanish and hand gestures, which is definitely our language of choice lately. We were really pleased that they were agreeable to the direction we were suggesting in starting with the wallets, so that they could leverage the work that the Waste for Life network has done on that product so far. But it was great that they also had new ideas; because in the development and execution of those original ideas, a true sense of pride and ownership is born and the press and the manufacturing business really become their own. This is the reason we’re here.
Eric brought out the visual instruction booklet for making the wallet that the people at RISD had provided for us, and opened up his smartphone where he’d loaded the instructional video that features wallet designer Will Wells from RISD assembling a wallet and talking about each step. MVP and Simón became absorbed in the video and chatted back and forth about the wallet, how to make this edge straight and that how you have to cut that piece and then that one. It was so cool to watch – design, technology and ideas all alive at that little table in the recycling centre’s cafeteria. We let them watch about 3 minutes of the video and then Eric made a motion to stop the movie and put his phone away. No! said Simon, don’t. I want to see how it turns out!
A short time later we said goodbye and promised to be in touch. We had achieved the very important buy-in we’d hoped for. Now all we had to do was get them a Hotpress…