BY: TREVOR HEWITT
While Xzibit pimps trashy cars, artist Thiago Mundano pimps trash carts. Brazil generates more than 200,000 tons of trash a day, with approximately one million trash collectors – known as catadores – responsible for 90 per cent of the country’s recycling efforts. Though vital to Brazil’s economy, in a recent TED Talk Mundano explained that their efforts go widely unacknowledged.
“Our world has many superheroes. But they have the worst of all superpowers – invisibility … Catadores emerged from social inequality, unemployment and the abundance of solid waste from the deficiency of [Brazil’s] waste collection systems.”
In 2007, in an attempt to underline the catadores’ efforts, Mundano began transforming their carts – carroças, as they’re called in Brazil – by decorating them with graffiti characters captioned with insightful slogans, many of which are underscored with political and environmental undertones. One reads: “If corrupted politicians were recyclable, they would be worth less than cardboard.” “One catadore does more than an environmental minister,” another jests. It didn’t take long for the movement to catch on.
“I pick up your waste, clean your city, yet I am called a beggar.”
“us collectors of recyclable materials do more for the environment than any minister”
“I plunged into this universe and have not stopped working since,” said Mundano during a 2014 TED Talk. “I have painted over 200 carroças in many cities and have been invited to do exhibitions and trips worldwide. And then I realized that catadores, in their invisibility, are not exclusive to Brazil. I met them in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, Turkey and even in developed countries such as the United States and Japan.”
Mundano said that the addition of artistic and insightful messages to the catadores’ carts makes society react differently towards them. “When the carroças are new and colourful with funny messages, people [start] to interact,” he told NPR. “One day they are completely invisible and the next day people are like, ‘Whoa! Nice cart, can I take a picture?’”
“My car does not pollute!”
After his initial success, in 2012, Mundano began a movement called Pimp My Carroça. The program pairs up local catadores with artists who will paint their carts. In addition, Pimp My Carroça sets up stations where catadores receive free eye exams, psychological counselling and massages – there are even veterinarians on site to examine their dogs. These bi-annual stations also supply catadores with much-needed safety gear, such as mirrors, raincoats and glasses.
Amongst a global consumer society saturated with convenience and instant gratification, Mundano gives voices to those who were previously unheard, whilst reminding us of an important yet often forgotten paradox – sometimes it’s those we recognize least in society responsible for that which we take most for granted.