MONTEVIDEO, Mar 26, 2010 (IPS) - "The time will come when 80 percent of the raw material used by industry in Uruguay will be recycled waste products," Marcelo Conde, a 40-year-old garbage sorter who has been digging through trash for recyclables "for as long as I can remember," says with some pride.
Conde, vice president of the Union of Urban Solid Waste Sorters (UCRUS), works at the Felipe Cardozo Cooperative (COFECA), the biggest of the waste picker cooperatives that operate in the Felipe Cardozo recycling plant, the largest of its kind in the capital of this small South American country between Argentina and Brazil.
At the plant, the members of some 60 cooperatives sort through the rubbish dumped by around 30 trucks, of the 540 that dispose of 2,000 tons of urban waste a day in dumps around the capital, Montevideo.
An estimated 800 tons of household waste are processed daily by about 5,000 families in the capital, according to the latest official count in 2008.
But authorities say the real number is up to twice that, if non-registered waste pickers are included, while a similar number of informal garbage collectors work in the rest of the country, classifying and selling recyclables. (Montevideo is home to roughly half of the population of 3.3 million.)
Efforts to overcome the stigma of working as informal garbage sorters are a recent phenomenon in Uruguay, as in other countries around the world.
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