Private Initiative Finds Garbage Profitable in Cuba

As self-employment and cooperatives expand in socialist Cuba, they are making incursions into new areas, such as waste picking and recycling – for many a means of subsistence, but for others, a gold mine.

“At this time there are 5,800 recoverers with cuentapropista permits, but we know that there are many more who aren’t registered,” said Marilyn Ramos, assistant director general of the Unión de Empresas de Recuperación de Materias Primas (UERMP) – the state association of companies that salvage raw materials, which recycles scavenged trash.

Odilia Ferro has dedicated herself to collecting and selling recyclable waste – “legally” she stresses – for the past 20 years in San José de las Lajas, the municipal seat in Mayabeque, a province that borders Havana.

She buys aluminium, bronze, steel, plastic and empty rum or beer bottles. Until July she sold them to the state-run salvage company of Mayabeque, which has since then become a cooperative of nine members, four of whom are women.

In Cuba’s centralised economy, for many years cooperatives were only allowed in agriculture. But in mid-2013, the government of Raúl Castro made it possible to establish cooperatives in other areas, as part of wider reforms to boost “prosperous, sustainable socialism.” Of the first 124 cooperatives established outside of agriculture, two are involved in salvaging waste materials. The government’s aim is for each of the country’s 168 municipalities to have a waste recovery cooperative.

Ramos said the UERMP association is not equipped to go door to door collecting recyclable waste materials. That task is left to the growing private sector, while the state reserves for itself the large sources of recoverable waste products, she explained in an interview with Tierramérica.

There are 986 garbage dumps in Cuba, which received just over 5.3 million tonnes of trash in 2012, according to the government statistics office. In the past year, around 420,000 tonnes of waste were recovered, including steel, cast iron, lead, bronze, aluminium, paper, cardboard, plastic, textiles, electronic scrap and glass bottles. These products were exported or sold to national industries, like the metallurgical industry, wire and cable production factories or paper and cardboard companies.

If local industry had had to import these materials, it would have cost the country 120 million dollars, Ramos said. “We want to increasingly industrialise this work and increase the value added of recycled products.”

The UERMP recycling association wants to foment the creation of provincial cooperatives that would carry out “at least basic” processing of waste products, Ramos said. Today there are only two garbage separating plants.

The ideal thing, she admitted, would be to get households to classify their own garbage. But that achievement, which would require heavy investment, is still a far-off dream for Cuba.

Source | Tierramerica