Los Cartoneros/The Cardboard People

From the director...
I made Los Cartoneros/The Cardboard People in 2005, when I was an undergraduate Political Science student from the United States. I was finishing my last semester studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Four years prior, in 2001, the country’s economy had totally collapsed – hundreds of thousand of people lost their jobs and life’s savings. Now on nearly every street, in every neighborhood and at any time, there are people digging through trash bags searching for recyclables that can be sold for mere pennies at depositories.
"They're just the cartoneros. Bums," is what most people told me.
Some very simple research showed that these "cardboard people" were not just bums; they are a huge population of people who once had good jobs and have been forced to form a survival economy so they can meet the most minimum of living standards. They are a visible display of Argentina's true identity as an underdeveloped nation, one of globalization's losers.
But I didn't make this movie to point out the unfairness of globalization. I made this movie because I wanted to show that cartoneros are people even if they live off the discards of society. They have stories, families, desires, interests, and livelihoods. When an audience sees these things, the cartonero becomes Juanchi, or Juan Carlos, or Florencia, or Ivana, all with names, faces and smiles. But seeing the cartoneros as people is only the first step in creating change. Next is recognizing that this situation is not specific to Argentina and that it is caused by a system of global trade that creates unimaginable wealth for some and leaves so many behind. Corporations, governments and international banking institutions work together to spread a plan of ¨free trade¨ even though it clearly works against working families and does not create sustainable development for everyone.
I would like audiences to see Los Cartoneros as an invitation to witness a snapshot of humanity and humility, a day in someone else’s shoes, and also an invitation to embrace our responsibilty as global citizens to work for change.


Juanchi, a 21-year-old from a small town outside Buenos Aires, supports himself and his family by digging through trash. Six days a week, Juanchi roams the streets of the Argentine capital in search of cardboard and other recyclables, hoping to sell his findings to a recycling depository. Like thousands of Argentines, he is “un cartonero”, a cardboard collector. Common sights on Buenos Aires’ bustling boulevards, they form part of the country’s booming informal economy, which swelled drastically following the 2001 economic collapse. Now, as the government scrambles to repay foreign debts and find solid footing in a changing global economy, the cardboard collectors’ presence in the Argentine discourse continues to emerge. Will the benefits of free trade trickle down to people like Juanchi? How does Argentina’s partnership with the IMF and the World Bank play into their struggle for daily survival?
Los Cartoneros/The Cardboard People explores the relationship of globalization, poverty, and how they affect the lives of those living through them.