Reuse just got one more advocate: Pope Francis. The newly instated Pope, who has long been an activist for the world's poor, recently commended the efforts of the world's "cartoneros"—informal waste pickers who sort through local dumps for items to salvage, reuse, or recycle. It's dirty, hard, and sometimes dangerous work. Cartoneros are exposed to a slew of toxic materials and environmental pollutants. And waste pickers almost always face a stigma from societies that treat them like, well…human trash.
In a statement delivered during the annual meeting of trash recyclers, Pope Francis elevated cartoneros to environmental warriors—the last line of defense against a culture of waste and excess.
"In this day and age we don’t have the luxury of disregarding leftovers. We are living in a throwaway culture where we not only easily disregard things, but people as well," he said. "…You recycle and in doing so you accomplish two things: a necessary ecological job and ensure a production cycle which provides jobs."
The informal reuse and recycling sector—normal people who make a living out of other people's trash—is massive. And it's thriving around the world. Just outside of Agbogbloshie, Ghana's most notorious dumpsite, we saw more people fixing and reusing "trash" than we saw people burning it. In Seelampur, India, we watched technicians at the scrap electronics market remanufacture electron guns at the back of cathode ray tube televisions—an amazing demonstration of technical skill that you'd be hard pressed to find in most American IT centers.
The same thing happens all over the world, especially where resources are scarcest: people coax everyday repair miracles out of items once relegated to trash bins. And we're glad to see that someone—and a Pope, at that!—is giving these men and women the respect they deserve.