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What is your expectation of privacy re: your trash? (this is where my fabulously expensive law schooling really comes in handy, I can ask questions that have the expression “expectation of privacy” with impunity). But I digress. When my ex and I lived in Portland, Oregon, we knew that the amount of trash we produced was being vigilado (watched, policed), because our landlord paid for trash pickup and didn’t want to pay extra if two transplanted eastcoasters were ignorant of Portland’s strict recycling policies (we weren’t). We also wondered if an investigator might be following us for legal purposes, as my ex was involved in a rather serious accident which led to a lawsuit to recover medical expenses, and we wondered if we were being spied upon on more than one occasion to see if we were secretly skiing double black diamond slopes with blatant disregard for one of our four allegedly damaged hips. Which it was, and we weren’t.

There I go again. So the truth is, after the fabulously expensive legal education (waving to the approximately four of my friends who are actually lawyers these days), I know that in the United States, going through someone’s trash does not constitute illegal search and seizure, because you do not have an expectation of privacy that extends to your trash. You put it outside, for goodness sake!

While it may be true that it is unlikely that someone goes through your trash in the United States unless you have a suspicious lover or a grudging ex or a great career in the public eye, that is simply not the case here in Santiago.

I know for a fact that they go through my trash (and I have none of the aforementioned unless having a moderately popular blog puts me in the public eye). The thing is, they go through everyone’s trash. There’s pretty extensive off-the-grid economy functioning late at night, under the bridges and on the main pedestrian thoroughfare through the city. Cartoneros are looking for paper and paper products to weigh on scales that say Don’t step here! (no pisar)in black magic marker, to later sell to the wholesale recyclables buyers. And while ideally they look through the business’ trash, with copy boxes and the occasional hastily-tossed calculator, those who don’t have a good beat or who are just looking for anything they can use will go through household trash as well.

It’s a sad commentary on the richest country in Latin America that everyone knows to separate their kitchen and bathroom trash from stuff that might be useful so that the cartoneros don’t have to get their hands dirtier than necessary. On the other hand, it promotes at least two of the Rs in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, which is great. And I just found out yesterday from another blogger that they have cartoneros in Argentina as well. So I guess at leat we’re in good company. Tangos and coffee and antiques and trash sifters, oh my!