South America’s Street Rag Pickers Become Recycling Leaders

South American Recyclers Take Pride In Themselves For Changing People’s View Of ‘Garbage’

The daughter of a farming family who had moved to the city, Soledad Mella grew up in Santiago, Chile, with high hopes for her life. In her own words she notes she had many dreams, wanted to finish her studies and have a profession.

But life had other plans for her.

She ended up becoming a ‘street rag picker’ in Santiago, Chile, but in 2013 she was invited by an environmental organisation called TriCiclos, formed just four years earlier by Gonzalo Munoz, to open a recycling station in her local area. Before she knew it, the project transformed her life and began to transform the lives of those around her.

Soledad began to appreciate the things that society throws away. She quickly changed her perspective and the perspective of those in the local area that these items were not simply ‘garbage’. No, this was ‘residential solid waste’. Waste, that if not dealt with properly could become harmful and would simply pollute the earth.

However, much of this waste could be recycled and repurposed.

‘those who were recycling soon began to deeply understand how our consumption choices can hurt the environment’

She, and the rest of the TriCiclos team, soon began to persuade people in the area to use their recycling stations. It did not take long before she noticed that many of those who were recycling soon began to deeply understand how our consumption choices can hurt the environment. Many of these recyclers began to address the problem at its root and make changes to their own consumption habits – instead of simply passing the problem along.

Today, there are dozens of TriCiclos recycling centres across South America, mostly in Brazil and Chile, and wherever they are found it is also suggested you will find cultural change in the same location.

Ultimately, those childhood dreams might have eventually come true for Soledad. She must do as, in her own words, she “believes that recyclers fulfil one of the most important roles in any country”, and she helps turn people from unaware consumers to environmentally aware recyclers.