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Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul Brazil

List of Waste Picker Groups in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul

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City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Alex Cardoso of Porto Alegre, Brazil

Personal Story

“My grandparents were waste pickers, my parents were also waste pickers who worked on the streets, and since I was a little child I was on the pushcart, asking for money. Everyone in our community was a waste picker. And eventually we were forcefully relocated to a place that was far from downtown; far from where we worked. This made it difficult for us to do our work. For some it made it impossible. So we started the cooperative – I was 16 years old. Although, at that time, I couldn’t work there legally, I was part of the formation of the waste picking cooperative. In 1992 the municipality hired another cooperative to do garbage collection and deliver it to us. They were a cooperative of unemployed favela residents. However, today collection is privatized.”

Formal Waste Management System

About 1,600 tons of waste is transported by a small truck to a transfer station inside of the city daily. From there, a bigger truck takes it to the landfill in Minas do Leão, a city two hours from Porto Alegre. Since 1990 there have been no dumps in Porto Alegre (Poa).People take their trash and put it on the street. Three times a week three private companies provide collection to an estimated 50 per cent of Porto Alegre’s 68 neighbourhoods: one does collection from containers, one does normal collection, and another collects recyclables. Alex reports that the waste pickers estimate that 600 tons of recyclable materials go to the landfill daily; and that if the 600 tons that go to the landfill were properly segregated, they could offer more than 30,000 jobs.

Informal Recycling System

There are 18 recycling associations in the city. The city collects 100 tons of recyclables per day and distributes them to the 18 associations.There are some warehouses for storing recyclables, which were built in the early 1990s but they now have broken equipment and are in need of reform, including modern technology. Alex explains, “Although Porto Alegre used to be a top waste management model for the world, they are no longer progressing.”“Although we reject 45-50 per cent of materials we receive from the city, we sell 300 tons of recyclables every month,” Alex says. “Many waste pickers work as a family unit. One will pick-up, one will sort, and other family members will sell.”

 Waste Picker Organization

According to Alex, 600 waste pickers are organized, working in the associations and cooperatives. “We now collect in parts of the city that don’t get collection.”“We don’t organize waste pickers economically – we organize socially.”

Central Issues

The primary issues in Port Alegre now include incineration and lack of inclusion of waste pickers. Alex told us that he believes waste picking on the streets will be outlawed by 2016 – the city is trying to get waste pickers out before the World Cup. He says that if the waste pickers are not allowed to collect on the streets any longer (he estimates that they now collect 300 tons per day) recyclables will go directly to the incinerator, which is currently in the proposal stage. Alex says, “These two processes – getting the waste pickers off the streets and building an incinerator – are working together.” He added, “although they didn’t start that way they are now working together.”Alex mentioned that the cooperatives are currently trying to determine how they might get a contract with the municipal government. He finished the interview by explaining, “We want to be paid for the services we provide.”