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Curitiba, Parana Brazil

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City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Marilza Lima of the cooperative Cataparaná Rua Reinaldo Machado, 33 Bairro Rebolças Curitiba, Paraná

A Personal Story

Nineteen years ago Marilza, who had two young children at the time, had just separated from her husband and had no job. Eventually she got a shack far from the city center – in a favela. She met a couple there who owned a junk shop, a business that bought recyclables. She worked collecting recyclables, as it was the only way she could survive with two children and a baby on the way. While she collected, she would put her two young children inside of the pushcart, while her older child walked at her side.At the end of 1998, with a new husband and a new baby, Marilza’s life began to change. She and her husband were able to buy a small house and a metal cart for collecting recyclables. Social assistance people told her about the first conference of catadores (the preferred term for waste pickers in Brazil) in Brasilia. Her husband and two of her six children also went. With two children in diapers, they spent 24 hours traveling on a bus to attend the national conference. They created their recycling group in 2003 and in 2006 they became a cooperative, which they call CataMare. Two years ago she moved into a good house on a well traveled street in a neighborhood that is becoming more valued.

Official Waste Management System

In 1994, Curitiba started an environmental education campaign to promote separation at source. Simultaneously they launched a fleet of trucks to collect recyclable materials. Recyclables were sold to middlemen.In 2008 the Public Ministry de Paraná mandated that cities had to contract catadores. An NGO was assigned to coordinate the project and 25 warehouses were established for cooperatives to use.Marilza mentioned that they had just learned that the government of Paraná is in favor of incinerators but she is not aware of any plans for one to be built. However she does know that there are other municipalities in the state of Paraná that have been going forward with agreements to build incinerators.

Informal Recycling System

There are 35 groups of waste pickers in the city and 25 work in partnership with the city government. Although the city pays the rent for their sorting facility, Marilza reports that they are still not sustainable. Whatever the waste pickers have in their coops is what they have collected with their trucks and pushcarts. They collect from the streets in the central parts of the street. Although they have specific streets, they do not go door to door.In Curitiba, no catadores are doing composting or biogas.

Waste Picker Organization

The catadores of the cooperative Cataparaná, which has 45 members, collect material with trucks and sort it at a warehouse. They separate plastic, paper, iron, metals, aluminum and glass. After separating the material, they sell it to an intermediary who pays higher prices then they get at a scrap store.Marilza’s cooperative is not integrated into the municipal solid waste management system. They are now in the planning process to provide some processing of recyclables. Marilza explained that it will be a partnership with private companies and has nothing to do with the municipal government.Members pick up from public agencies (the post office, Banco do Brasil (Brazil’s national bank), the Caixa Econômica, and from large producers (supermarkets, stores).

Current Central Issues

Marilza says the catadores want to be contracted by the city government for the public service they perform. “If the municipal governments are paying a private company to bury the trash in the landfill, they should pay the waste pickers who are doing the service of keeping material out of the landfills.”Marilza says that to achieve that, cooperative members are holding meetings, talking with the local government, and demonstrating to the public that catadores are not only able to do the job but they should be paid for it.“They are also making partnerships with NGOs that support waste pickers. The Waste and Citizenship Institute (Lixo e Cidadania) is one – there are technicians that help with implementation. There is a lawyer who looks at the laws for us, to make sure we aren’t making mistakes. We have to have something that guarantees, and now we have the National Waste Policy. We have to understand the pros and cons of this law and what it means.”Marilza also notes, “The local governments say we still don’t have the conditions/ability to do it – and that’s why they need a private company to do the work.”Social security, health and education are the central issues that Marilza is working towards. She says one of the campaigns is for retirement benefits for the time worked.“We want catadores to have better health, for our kids to be educated, to be better trained as catadores.”“We want better quality of work, and we want waste pickers to be able to pay for their food and feed their families,” she says.“The waste picker is excluded from society and we want to include them,” she explains.“When we say social inclusion and improvement of livelihoods, it’s a given that we are also talking about better economic compensation.” She believes there is an important need to politically educate the catadores, so they can make their case effectively.She continues: “There are still problems, like privatization of waste and incineration.”