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Itaúna, Minas Gerais Brazil

List of Waste Picker Groups in Itaúna, Minas Gerais

Waste Picker Groups (0)

City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation with: Madalena Duarte.

Personal Story

Madalena started waste picking at the dumpsite with her family in Itaúna when she was 7 years old. For many years she worked alongside her 15 brothers and sisters. She reports that, “In 1998, we got a visit at the dump from a metal union. There were lots of layoffs at that time so many people had come to the dump to find work. They started an aluminum cooperative and it was operational for about a year. Then the waste pickers took over and eventually it became a waste pickers’ cooperative.” Madalena is one of the founders of that original cooperative. (The landfill where Madalena worked as a child was closed in 2004. Now the municipal landfill is located 16 kilometers from the city.)

Formal Waste Management System

Itaúna is a small city with a population of 85,396. The municipal government, which Madalena reports collects three truck loads per day and two at night, contracted a private company to collect on alternating days: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it collects wet waste and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays it collects recyclables. This collection system was implemented in 2002 and now reaches all neighbourhoods in the municipality, even the most rural communities.Door-to-door collection is done by a private company contracted by the municipality. They collect three times a day.

Informal Recycling System and Waste Picker Organization

Cooperative: Coopert, Itaúna, Minas Gerais 68 associates (and growing) – 45 women/ 23 men Founded in 1999. Began with 27 associates. Coopert is the only waste pickers’ association in Itaúna.

Relationship with public and private agencies

Madalena informed us that in 2002 legislation was passed, mandating that all recyclable material must go to the recycling cooperatives. She says, “[The cooperative] fought hard for the legislation, meeting many times with the municipal government for a period of four years to make it happen. Today, as a result, all public buildings and some private agencies give us their recyclable materials, including:
  • All schools – private and public
  • Big supermarkets
  • Two hospitals
  • A major financial institution
  • ArcelorMittal steel manufacturer
  • Churches (evangelical and Catholic)
  • Many others

A cooperative bank

Coopert has been a member of a cooperative bank in Itaúna city for eight years. The bank works like a cooperative – members participate in meetings and receive a credit line. The credit line is not only for Coopert but for the individual waste pickers. Every year there’s a bonus that goes towards the cooperative. And every ten years there’s a very large bonus for the cooperative. That big bonus has not arrived yet but the plan is to keep it within the cooperative rather than distribute it in order to have working capital for the cooperative. Coopert is interested in sustainability right now.


There is one big middleman who has been the buyer for more than 50 years called Comércio Irajá. He’s been buying from waste pickers since they were on the dump, before we were organized. He buys plastic and paper.The big buyers now are CRB, Santa Maria, Gerdal, one in Divinópolis. UARGO in Contagem also buys PET.

Coopert’s recycling collection system – collection from downtown stores

One of the trucks collects at downtown stores (this truck is driven by catadores from Coopert but the city pays the drivers and the truck contract). Four waste picker women collect from the downtown stores. The business owners were trained in source segregation. Every day in the morning the waste pickers go to the downtown stores and retrieve a big bag that the store has filled with recyclables. The waste pickers empty the bag into the truck and return the bag to the stores. They return to the same stores a second time in the day, from 1-3 p.m.

Collection from big producers

Coopert collects recyclable materials from big producers with their own truck. Coopert bought the truck from Cataunidos (the regional network) with money they made from selling plastic film material. Coopert’s demand for collection has increased – this was why they needed to buy the truck.From 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., Coopert waste pickers drive the truck around, collecting from big producers. They collect once or several times a day from big producers, depending on the amount.

Pushcart collection

This is done by catadores who are members of Coopert. There is a warehouse downtown – an Eco-point belonging to Coopert (they pay rent) – just for the pushcart catadores. They weigh the material at the warehouse.The rent on the main Coopert warehouse is paid for by the municipality. Coopert is now building a new warehouse with money from the municipal and federal governments – 630,000 Reais (US $311,547) from the municipality and 680,000 Reais (US $336,284) from the federal PACS program. The warehouse is almost finished. It will be located 16 km from downtown, in the industrial area. Right now, Coopert is within a residential area and they aren’t happy with that.Forty-five waste pickers work in the main warehouse and 16 work on the streets with pushcarts.The best separated material comes from the big producers, the pushcarts, and the downtown stores, in that order. Door-to-door collection (the company’s responsibility) reaches 100 per cent of the population, Madalena says, but has a lot of reject material. Coopert is campaigning now to continue education because, Madalena says, door-to-door collection has gotten worse over the years. After an initial campaign, it was pretty good but went downhill after that. Between 2002 and 2005, door-to-door collection was 100 per cent recyclables, she said.Coopert has a Trash Museum where paintings, photographs, antique dishes, clothing are kept – basically anything that the catadores find and think is interesting enough.Madalena estimated that there are 158 unorganized catadores who sell to middlemen.

Collection figures and reject material

The total amount of separated (good) material that arrives at the warehouse (including the pushcart catadores’ Eco –Point) is 248 tons per month; 30 of those 248 tons arrive at the Eco-Point:
  • About 30 tons of material is from the pushcart catadores.
  • About 82 tons is from the door-to-door collection.
  • About 130 is from downtown stores and big producers.
Thirty-five per cent of the material that arrives from the door to door collection trucks is reject material. Every day, 15 tons of reject material is received – more than recyclable material. This is because of the door-to-door collection.“If the municipality was educating the community, we’d have a lot more good material in the warehouse and less in the landfill,” Madalena says.Coopert has a yearly assembly in which members discuss what was collected and sold in the municipality. There is another annual assembly to elect the audit committee. Every two years, there is a meeting to elect the board of directors.

Waste Picker Organizations

There are 25 cooperative/association members of Cataunidos Network. Cataunidos provides the invoices and pays the taxes for all of the cooperatives’ transport.Under the Cataunidos Network, waste pickers can also do other kinds of work. For example, waste picker groups can open restaurants, stores, artisanal shops, or woodshops. Cataunidos members have been contracted at different events, for example, working for Festival Lixo e Cidadania, or Waste and Citizenship Festival, held in Belo Horizonte. So there are a lot of benefits for the cooperatives that are members of the Cataunidos Network.Plastic (PEAD, PP, PVC, PS, PET) is commercialized now at Cataunidos. Plastic film is sold to a big buyer with Cataunidos. Glass is also commercialized.Everyday big buyers are contacted to send their price chart. “We have commercial representatives – Fernando Godoy of ASMARE and Ivanil of ASMARE and me, Madalena of Coopert and Maria Daniela Quirino of Coopert. We are responsible for Cataunidos. The minimum the big buyer will take from each cooperative is 15 tons each time. In my coop, the big buyer collects four times a week. We have the scale of prices. White paper, cardboard and mixed. One day the buyer will collect that and the next day collect another. We have to have a bigger quantity of glass and Tetra Pak to sell. Transport is far –it’s in São Paulo.”There is a cost of the tax/tariffs, and the cost of weight. Between 16-20 tons of glass and Tetra Pak is needed. It would take 20 days to get to that point, but with the Cataunidos network, we can make 15 tons a day. “Every day, we discuss what material can be gathered in less time. We ask the buyers for a deadline. Then we ask the cooperatives how much each of them has of that specific material. Sometimes we only call two cooperatives and that’s enough,” Madalena says.The driver goes out to collect the material. Cataunidos pays the driver. Cataunidos has two trucks and should be getting three more trucks soon.Cataunidos’ is funded through local, state, and federal funds, and receives other support from NGOs and universities, who helped pay for the factory. The objective of Cataunidos is to eventually process the materials. Right now it is at a pre-industry level.In order for the plastic factory and network to operate, it needs 364,000.75 Reais (US $180,001), Madalena explains This figure was calculated when there were only nine members of the network. Now there are 16 so the amount is much higher. A new study is being done right now to find out the amount needed to become operational. Without this money, the plastic factory can only run on 60 tons per day. “If we get the money, we can begin to process 190 tons in two work shifts,” Madalena says.