One thing I had not anticipated when Waste for Life started in Buenos Aires, was the whole complication with market. Not that it hadn’t occurred to us – we knew within a few weeks that our preferred position – that of creating a bartering system – cartoneros producing goods which might be passed on for the return of goods or services such as plumbing or engine repair – would not work here, not now. At the height of the economic crisis between 2001 and 2003, when there was very little currency circulating, a huge barter or exchange network (trueque) played a significant role in the country’s economy, but by the time we arrived in 2007, it had basically disappeared. We always wished that Waste for Life could sidestep the traditional monetized marketplace, and had some hope that we could work within a ‘closed’ economy of many networked cooperatives exchanging goods and services, but it hasn’t played out that way. Instead we have had to come to grips with the fact that if the cartoneros would gain anything from our work, they would have to sell the products they made. But to whom? What I had not really understood was how conflicted I would feel when it came to assisting the cooperatives find an upscale market. See posts http://wasteforlife.org/?p=27 and http://wasteforlife.org/?p=23.

We have spent time doing actual market research of the selected products in markets and in local stores as explained in earlier blogs, and actually found ourselves thinking about the ‘competition’ – other wallets made by other cooperatives. We were becoming part of the market in ways we never wanted to. Other opportunities have also been presented – large manufacturers offering huge money to co-ops to recycle their plastic food containers. Who were we to say, ‘no thanks, we don’t believe in working with these people’. Although for me it was never going to be an option, it took many days of scrutinizing our thoughts, feelings and actions before the team was convinced that this was the exact point at which charity and social justice collided. If real structural changes were ever going to be made – if I was really in Buenos Aires to really try to resist ways of thinking and being in the dominant discourse which I disagreed with, then I had to understand the position better. I was reminded of Ursula Franklin, one of my favorite scholars, who said she would only work for the decommissioning of nuclear plants if their were promises that no new ones would be built. I feel the same way about our situation. Working with large manufacturers intent on creating more goods at whatever cost, at enhancing consumption by pleasing shareholders with ‘green coated’ strategies, but not seriously considering reduction of the production of such waste would be counter intuitive. This does not even touch the subject of global versus local food production and multinational corporations which are the engine of structures creating the injustices we are fighting against in the first place. Waste for Life has intended all along to be somewhere in the middle between artisanal and production. We hoped that enough products could be made to develop businesses sufficient to give extra income to the cooperative members, but without creating the development of capital which would create the need to expand, outsource, sell out, or even compete with the major economic neighborhood interests who, we have recently learned, were not at all beyond threatening the cooperatives when it looked as if they were becoming too successful.

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