Network Recycling

Network Recycling: El Correcamino's disruptive solution for urban waste reuse and unemployment

Buenos Aires, ArgentinaBuenos Aires, Argentina
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Thousands of tons of reusable materials are ending up in landfills every day. Network Recycling is a disruptive social protocol that motivates agents in urban areas to organize stock of residue near collection routes. Unemployed citizens are empowered and material reuse increases dramatically.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if recycling could solve unemployment in vulnerable sectors of urban population and viceversa?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Buenos Aires buries 2400 tons of reusable materials every day. A minority of citizens wants to recycle, but doesn't have a real channel to do so. Collection and selection is handled by the most vulnerable sector, 50,000 "cartoneros" that wander the city on foot looking for materials. They make a living out of it, but their logistics is rudimentary. The amount of material collected is negligible and the money they make is barely enough to survive.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

El Correcamino is a group of cartoneros that's changing the game. They are not just surviving, they're evolving. They respond directly to pickup requests made by citizens. They motivate and educate the population to become "Environmental Promoters" themselves. Citizens in turn motivate other citizens and the network spreads. This is happening now, and the tools used are SMS, phone, email, whatsapp, etc. Our aim is to use open source web and mobile technology to deeply enhance the phenomenon using principles of gamification and social networks. A currency traverses and motivates a tree structure of agents that conglomerates and decants materials towards collection routes. Companies that want visibility exchange the currency for benefits.


Abanderados de Argentina Solidaria, Unesco Peace Ambassadors, etc.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Ricardo's dry material bin fills up, so he uses our app to quickly input what he has for collection. The app suggests that he takes it to Juliana who's nearby. She owns a bar and is willing to give Ricardo 2 credits for his waste. The bar produces a lot of glass and, together with what Juliana collects from other users, she makes about 500 credits per week. This allows her to exchange her credits at Cinemark for movie tickets. Luis in turn, use to be a cartonero, and empties the bar's waste stock every Monday. He makes $6000 a month by giving out aprox. 80,000 credits. He's part of El Correcamino, where materials are sold and credits are received from collaborating companies. Credits flowed downwards and reusable materials flowed upward.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

There are 72 families currently involved with El Correcamino. They do not receive any sort of subsidy from the state and are 100% self sustainable. They collect an average of 200 tons of recyclables per month in all sorts of forms, not just cardboard, 40% of which is sold and 60% of which is donated to other cooperatives because 1) they do not yet have the infrastructure or logistics to process and 2) they believe this encourages others to implement their method. 73% of Buenos Aires' 3 million residents live in apartments and El Correcamino is regularly interacting with concierges for collections. They also interact with with small commerces, offices, etc. There is no current interaction with the independent user. There is a lot of conglomeration potential, but technology is required to take it to the next level.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

At stage 1, we will develop the software with El Correcamino, trying to reach the independent user, hopefully by hundreds. At stage 2, we want the other 12 cooperatives of Buenos Aires to adopt El Correcamino's method (encapsulated in a simple software by then) and start taking over the city with thousands of users. At stage 3 we could take this to other Latin American countries that face exactly the same problem (Mexico's "pepenadores" and Brazil's "catadores" for example), hopefully involving millions of people and inspiring the rest of the world to follow.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

At the moment, El Correcamino is 100% self sustainable. First, we plan to finance the development of the software via donations. At stage 2, as the software proves to become an indispensable tool for cooperatives, we plan to start charging a small percentage of their earnings. Companies that give out credits will also be charged for the visibility we facilitate. By then, the software should become completely self sustainable.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The government, as well as the other 12 Recycling Cooperatives in Buenos Aires, are both addressing the problem poorly, disregarding the waste of the majority of the population. No initiative is making the key vinculation we are, between the citizen and the collector. This is our differential focus, in which we consider to have no competition at all for the time being.

Founding Story

In 2005 Ricardo Coco Niz and a group of Cartoneros detach from the "El Ceibo Cooperative" and form the "El Camino Cooperative" with these radical ideas of change. The main prerogatives were: not depending on government subsidies, increasing efficiency and evolving quality of life instead of just surviving. The project encounters obstacles imposed by the ruling system and shuts down. Years later, "El Corremanino" is born, with a more robust legal foundation and the project soon flourishes rallying dozens of families. In 2014, through connections with DemocracyOS, we get in touch with El Correcamino and understand that technology could easily cause this phenomenon to spread.


There is a community of people behind this. Matias and myself are experienced software developers working with Paz (design). All 3 of us work on this in our free time. We interact daily with El Correcamino's entire staff, who is very excited about this and are willing to fully cooperate. We are also backed up by an ecosystem of social entrepreneurship and consultancy including DemocracyOS/Democracia en Red and El Partido de la Red that love the project, and understand that what El Correcamino is doing needs to grow.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

We heard about it in the Democracia en Red foundation.

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Founder of the App, collaborator of El Correcamino

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Although this would be our first experience as founders, we have been part of many software startups ( gaming engine, recommendation social network, musical counselling tool and voting platform). We have a lot of experience in social software. El Correcamino has experience in recycling and our consultants have experience in making a product work as well as with social problematics.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

DemocracyOS/Democracia en Red, El Partido de la Red.