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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São Paulo Brazil

City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Eduardo Ferreira de Paula, representative in MNCR-SP.

A Personal Story

“In 1990 when I became unemployed I became a waste picker. It was about survival. You see my daughter’s mother was crazy—she was always partying. So I had to figure out how to support [my daughter] . I had to bring her to work with me. Coopamare was the first cooperative in Brazil. It became an example for Brazil and Latin America.”

Official Waste Management System

The formal system is performed by private companies that provide both recycling collection and conventional collection. Landfill is the final disposal site and there are two in Sao Paulo; however, no waste pickers work there. Also, there are currently no incinerators. Dudu mentioned that there are two transfer stations where waste is often, but not always, dumped before going to the landfill.

Informal Recycling System

There are various models of recycling cooperatives in Sao Paulo. There are the 21 central cooperatives that partner with the municipal government. The city gives them warehouses and trucks. Although they are not paid for their services as sorters, the government pays water, electricity, and rent. The municipality delivers waste to be segregated at these 21 cooperatives. There have been complaints that compactor trucks have made it very difficult to sort recyclable material from organic waste.

Waste Picker Organization

Dudu’s cooperative of about 28 members, Coopamare, has a space, equipment, and trucks, but does not have an agreement with the city.There are 53 other recycling groups that do not have a contract with the municipality. Some have trucks, others use pushcarts or big bags slung over their shoulders.In Coopamare, earnings average R$50-70 per day (around US $25-35). With other associations, it varies – either one to two minimum wages.Also, it is important to note that there are many waste pickers that are not involved in the cooperatives. Dudu estimates that there are more than 10,000 waste pickers in the city of Sao Paulo and at least 10 per cent of them are organized.Dudu told us that, “of all the waste produced in SP, only 1.5 per cent is recycled and the majority of that recycled material is provided by waste pickers.”

Current Central Issues

Dudu spoke about incineration as a threat to waste pickers. “This is a huge threat. There is currently no incinerators in Sao Paulo, but there is a feeling that this could happen soon.”He also spoke about the need for space. “We often need more space and improvements to our warehouses, and there is just no money for it, and although we provide a service the government just won’t help.” Additionally, he mentioned that the cooperatives need better equipment, for instance a paper shredder.