The power of the waste

FRYKMAN, Carina. The Power of Waste. A Study of Socio-Political Relations in Mexico City’s Waste Management System. Report from a Minor Field Study, 2006

It is estimated that up to 2 percent of the population in Third World countries survives on waste in one way or another. In Mexico City alone there exist 15,000 garbage scavengers called Pepenadores. The poverty and marginalization they experience is utterly linked to their work, and while they do much of the hard work their socio-economic situation seems stagnant.

This paper explores the complexity of the waste management system in Mexico City which keeps them in this position, and how the current system is a manifestation of the existing symbiosis between the formal and informal sectors of the city. The main characters in the maintenance of this system are the leaders of waste management associations. Their struggle to maintain their powerful positions influences both the system’s relationship to the public sector and determines the socioeconomic situation of the Pepenadores.

The paper also analyzes the effects of past efforts to change the system, and how policy changes always seem to work against the Pepenadores. Efforts to help the Pepenadores escape their vulnerable positions can be successful in the short-term, but the existing social structure in Mexico City make any permanent changes difficult to achieve.

Master Thesis in Cultural Anthropology, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University

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