Garbage, Industry, and the ‘Vultures’ of Cali, Colombia'

The contents of this paper are based on a case study in one Colombian city, and are intended to answer, two major questions: how have the garbage pickers inserted themselves into the urban economy, and what are the relationships between garbage pickers and the urban economy? In attempting to answer these questions I am attempting to answer the more general question of why garbage pickers are poor. But it is only a partial answer, based upon an analysis of the structural factors that limit the possibilities which the garbage picker has to accumulate money. The more difficult problem of whether such people maximize their opportunities is largely left on one side.

The fieldwork that forms the basis of this study was carried out in Cali during the latter months of 1976, and descriptions in the present tense refer to that period. Statistics, where they exist, are hard to obtain, and where they do not (as in the majority of cases) take a long time to compile. This problem is compounded by the natural suspicions of all concerned, and a general unwillingness to talk about matters so close to the heart as money. Thus the following material is largely based .on informal discussions with those individuals willing to talk, and is mostly presented in the form of a case study of one section of the garbage recycling business.

Released: Replika 15–16, 49–61.