You'll see them mostly at night, hunched over at the curb, picking through the garbage and pushing loaded-down carts. These are some of Buenos Aires' poorest citizens, the cartoneros (cardboard collectors).

Cleaning up the City

It's estimated that around 20,000 cartoneros rummage through Buenos Aires' trash heaps; some are even accredited by the city and wear uniforms. They sort through the city's 5000 daily tonnes of waste, collecting cardboard, paper, metal, plastic, glass – anything they can sell by the kilo to the depositos (recycling companies). They stake out their territory, perhaps about 15 city blocks, and are occasionally forced to pay police bribes.

While most cartoneros work independently, some work for neighborhood cooperatives that pay them a regular wage and organize vaccinations. Some cooperatives even provide child care for parents who go off on their nightly rounds. In the poorest families, however, even the young children have to work, and some cartoneros are in their 50s and 60s.