Anything Dirty or Dingy or Dusty

David Beron Echavarria Wherever humans exist, so does trash. What varies from place to place is how individuals, companies and governments manage that garbage. David Berón Echavarría ’15 is spending a year traveling the world on a Watson Fellowship, studying international methods of waste management.

Berón Echavarría’s aim is to “explore what waste and waste management (or its non-management) reveal about a community’s politics, economics and social arrangements.”

He’s already changed his consumption habits. “I don’t buy new clothes,” he said in December. “I went to the tailor yesterday because I ripped my pants. There’s a hole in my shoe; I’m fixing it. The idea of being content with a few things is not a new idea, but it seems more reasonable to me now than ever.”

Here’s where Berón Echavarría has been and where he’s going.

Buenos Aires is home to 40,000 workers who collect recyclables door-to-door and streetto- street. Berón Echavarría spent a month and a half accompanying these workers, most of whom are in unionized cooperatives, on their daily rounds to neighborhoods and recycling centers. “You see mundane objects—baby shoes, maps, bicycles—in discarded form. It’s a shocking recognition that everything is going to end up somewhere else,” he says.

In São Paulo, he spent time at a cooperative’s supermarket drop-off station for recyclables. He also spoke with graffiti artists who paint pushcarts of workers who travel the streets collecting recyclables. The art raises awareness about collectors’ service and the need to improve their working conditions. Off hours, Berón Echavarría got a new passport, applied for visas and replaced his shattered camera screen.


Anything Dirty or Dingy or Dusty
Trash is universal. David Berón Echavarría ’15 is traveling the world to study how different societies handle it.

Electronic waste from Europe ends up in the Agbogbloshie area in Accra. “The environmental impact is huge,” Berón Echavarría says. “Heavy metals from TV screens and laptops leak into soil and water.” Scavengers “burn everything to extract copper and other valuable metals,” while neighbors “are living in fumes” from this work. Here, he is working with a consultant who is involved in a project to build a waste management facility. Besides dealing with electronic waste, that project involves better collection, sorting and recycling, as well as generating energy from organic waste. “I arrived here expecting to learn specifically about electronic waste,” he says. “What I found has been much broader and more complex than I ever imagined.”

The island is renowned for its waste-to-energy and watertreatment facilities, and it has high recycling rates. “Singapore will be a case study of technical innovation,” Berón Echavarría says.

Sweden is a pioneer in technical advancements in waste management. But most impressive, Berón Echavarría says, is the role of public policy in shaping these advancements. In Sweden, a mere 1 percent of garbage ends up in landfills, according to a 2012 government report. Berón Echavarría plans to end his Watson year examining Sweden’s policies and strategies.