The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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Law Report: Brazil

Waste Pickers in Brazil


Brazil provides a role model for integrating waste pickers into the municipal waste management network. In 2002, the country provided official recognition to workers by listing waste picking as an occupation in the Brazilian Classification of Occupations. Waste pickers or catadores contribute to the waste management system by segregating and gathering the recyclables, an important resource of any economy.

Size and Significance

An estimated 200,000 to 800,000 catadores work in Brazil contributing to a robust recycling trade in the country. A thriving trade in recycling of plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass bottles exists, with impressive records of recycling rates that outperform Europe and the United States.

Working Conditions

Catadores work long hours, sometimes exceeding 12 hours, bending, lifting, pushing or walking long distances in doing their work. They live life on the margins and their difficult work conditions are compounded by poor living conditions. As in other countries, their direct contact with contaminated waste renders them susceptible to diseases and consequently a lower life expectancy. Prior to their inclusion, the waste pickers faced constant prejudice and harassment from society.


The average earnings of the catadores are in the range of 400 reals per month, below the national minimum wage of 500 reals per month.

Law and Policy

Article 30, Clause V of Brazilian Constitution stipulates that municipalities are responsible for the management of solid waste services.


National Policy of Solid Waste, 2010: “On September 6th 2007 the National Solid Waste Policy was sent for Congress appraisal as an Executive Power proposition. This proposition advocates the reverse logistics system, which makes the generator of waste responsible for the return of recyclables to the productive chain after consumption, which, in turn, increases the volume of activity for the waste picker. The proposition was recognized as a big advancement for the MNCR (the National Movement of Waste pickers) as it made the inclusion of waste pickers in the reverse logistics system mandatory. This necessitated the availability of fiscal and financial incentives for the recycling industry, for the development of regional programs in partnership with waste picker organizations, and to facilitate the structuring of these organizations. After 20 years of debate the National Policy of Solid Waste was finally approved in July 2010. This Law is outstanding in its recognition of waste pickers, turning what has been a government policy over the years into law. However, it must be mentioned that a last minute maneuver at the Senate House omitted the clause restricting the use of incineration to a “last resort” treatment technology from the final Policy. The Policy was sanctioned by President Lula on August 2nd. During the sanctioning ceremony the MNCR, backed by a technical note issued by the Ministry of the Environment, asked President Lula to veto this alteration when regulating the Policy. This is still to be analysed by the President´s cabinet.” (Dias, 2010)


Federal legislation: In 2001, the collection of recyclables (waste picking) was included as a profession in the Brazilian Occupation Classification (CBO). With this legal recognition, waste pickers gradually found a place in official statistics, enabling research and monitoring of the occupational group.

In 2007, Law # 11.445/07 was passed which established the national guidelines for basic sanitation. Article 57 of this Law (which modifies article 24 of Law # 8.666/93), allows for hiring of waste picker associations and cooperatives directly by municipalities, without a process of tendering of bids, to perform selective waste collection.

A further legal instrument that promoted waste picker social inclusion at a federal level was the Presidential Decree 5940/06 which was presented at the 5th Annual Waste & Citizenship Festival held in Belo Horizonte in August 2006, and organized with the participation of waste picker representatives. This Decree determined that a “Solid Waste Selective Collection” was to be implemented in all federal public buildings in Brazil, and that the material generated was to be delivered to waste picker organizations. The main objective of the Decree was to recognize the labor of waste pickers, and to allow for the generation of income for these workers.

Local Laws

  1. In 2003 the Minas Gerais State Parliament responded to the demands of the catadores’ movement and extensively discussed the possibilities of an inclusive solid waste management system. Following the debates, the State Government altered DN 52 (that forbade access of catadores to open dumps) by Resolution # 67 in the end of 2003, in which it was added that when closing an open dump municipalities should create labour and income alternatives for the catadores withdrawn from the dumps.

    In December 2008 the Law18031/2008 that institutes the Minas Gerais State SW Policy was approved and sanctioned in January 2009. It contains explicit articles dealing with social inclusion of catadores and also economical mechanisms of incentives for municipalities abiding the law.

  2. In the city of Diadema, the waste pickers’ organizations included in the municipal source-segregation scheme are paid the same amount per tonne of recyclables collected as a private company would be. This was made possible by Law 2336/04, which entitles organizations to be paid by service rendered. Cities like Araxá, Brumadinho, and Londrina pay cooperatives for environmental services.

Organisation and Voice

Brazil’s National Movement of Recycled Material Collectors (MNCR) established in 2001 and have been instrumental in advocating for changes in law and policy. Worker cooperatives have been formed in Rio, BeIo Horizonte, Recife, Niteroi and Salvador.

Coopamare, one of the most successful recycler co-operatives in Brazil, collects 100 tons of recyclables a month, equivalent to half of what is collected by the government recycling programme in Sao Paulo, and at a lower cost. Coopamare members earn US$ 300 per month, twice the minimum wage in Brazil. In comparison, half of the country’s labour force earn less than US$ 150 a month.