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Building A New Path Forward


As with many non-profits across the globe, we started 2023 with grand expectations and big plans for how we could transform social and environmental systems in the world. We know well that 2020 could instead be a road with seemingly unsurmountable challenges.

Our 2020 goal: Expanding recycling thinking all across Buenos Aires

The Rethinking Recycling program located in Buenos Aires’ Barrio 31, locally known as “ATR – A todo Reciclaje, was closed in the year with a successful method for sustainable recycling programs for informal settlements. In just one year, we took the new recycling program to the doorsteps of over 20 thousand people, with a participation rate of more than 30%, and diverted more than 120 tonnes of organics and recyclables. We created a community-run sorting center from scratch and developed the first organics collection for the residential residents program in Buenos Aires. When we entered the month of January, our community leaders, environmentalists, and waste workers were focused on expanding the “A Todo Recipiclaje” program to more than 40,000 residents throughout the Barrio 31 neighborhood.

Through a plan to manage waste sustainably in informal settlements, as part of the Barrio 31 work, our team was also working to demonstrate our methodology in a brand new setting in the middle-sized city of Olavarria. With extensive parks and a sprawling river valley in Buenos Aires Province, Olavarria has an impressive history as the capital city of the region’s cement industry, with many residents and robust public services. In the new town, and with municipalities as a partner, we have made plans to start our new program that will change the entire municipal waste system to maximize recycling and compostable materials into productive use.

  • Begin by collaborating with our current partner that is the Buenos Aires government, to aid the residents of Barrio 31 to overcome the growing crisis by repurposing the platform to offer a COVID response;
  • Second, restart the Barrio 31 recycling programs safely when you can.

Barrio 31 COVID Response

Like many informal settlements worldwide, Coronavirus protections such as social distancing and quarantining are almost unattainable for residents of Barrio 31: families live together in cramped homes and depend on their daily jobs to eat. In the months of April and May, when the majority in the City of Buenos Aires sheltered in place and kept COVID at bay, Barrio 31 and the other slums in the city were responsible for nearly 50% of the cases that were infected across the city.

Our community-based, dynamic model shifted quickly to support those in greatest need and when they require the most. In response to the urgent need to help the Barrio 31 community and its members, we expanded our reach in the community to rapidly provide food, PPE, as well as health and safety education for essential workers and communities in need, along with our government partner with the Secretariat for Social and Urban Integration (SISU).

In the beginning days of Buenos Aires’ shelter-in-place policy and the subsequent digital transition, we continued to be there for garbage workers, who, despite uncertainty and fear, were just as dedicated as ever to keeping streets spotless and their neighbors secure. While most of the city was under lockdown, Barrio 31’s recycling service continued. 

Expansion to Olavarria

It is the Olavarria program, dubbed “GIRO” (which stands for Olavarria Integrated Waste Management in Spanish), is a three-year program that began in August 2020 to launch recycling programs throughout the city, in conjunction with the municipal authorities, residents, and waste professionals. With a challenging background being a globally distributed team and socially distancing procedures, The team devised innovative strategies to research the community to understand better residents’ experiences with waste and barriers to recycling. It is developing customized solutions that will be tested in different areas beginning in March 2021.

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Jane S. King

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