Cuban says collecting recyclables in Havana earns him more than a state job

Government's recycling effort rewards independent recycling collectors

HAVANA – Revelers throw away more cans and bottles during hot Friday and Saturday nights in Havana, and this means good business for Moises Sabate, a 53-year-old self-employed Cuban in the business of recycling collection. 

Sabate uses a rustic wheelbarrow, digs through piles of trash and searches in overflowing dumpsters for hours in the heavily populated Central Havana district. He is competing with dozens of other colleagues who Cubans refer to as "Buzos," Spanish for divers. 

"You have to work, you have to search for money," he said. 

Sabate, who doesn't wear gloves, said dumpster diving earns him more money than some state jobs. He rushes to go through the trash before the government's garbage collectors take it every night, and before the sun rises, he stands in line at the government recycling plant. The weight of the cans will determine his pay, and they buy glass bottles by the box. 

While earning from $4 to $20 a week, Sabate is contributing to the island's recycling effort. Gonzalo Ramiro Hernandez is a Cuban engineer who leads a Cuban government group of some 74 companies, out of which 24 are focused on recycling. He said the companies deal with card board, plastic, steel and copper, and help to reduce the island's need for imports.  

Garbage management continues to be a challenge in Havana. The Havana Times has been reporting on the litter-strewn streets of the aging city, which for years have become an opportunity for men like Sabate.

Jimmy Roque Martinez reported  that homeowners who were paying the government garbage collectors a little extra money were getting better service, and Osmel Ramirez Alvarez reported Cubans struggling with scarcity continue to edefine what is and what isn't garbage. 

"The incredible thing here is that with this mass recycling, which is compulsory because of our poverty, the State recycling company still has so many problems trying to collect solid waster in our cities," Ramirez Alvarez wrote. "From this perspective, their inefficiency is much greater."

Sabate didn't have an opinion on the subject. He said he is just willing to work hard where there is an opportunity. 

"This really helps me," Sabate said.


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