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Law Report: Chile

Waste Pickers in Chile


Recycling is done by waste pickers, called “cartoneros”, “cachucheros” or “recolectores”, in Chile. Reportedly, waste recycling in Chile is the most efficient amongst all Latin American countries. Their work allows municipalities to save about 12 billion pesos a year in the area of collection and disposal of waste in landfills.

Size and Significance

There are an estimated 60,000 waste pickers in Chile, of which only 3,500 (around 5%) are organised into collective or localised groups.

Working Conditions

They collect valuable materials from the streets of residential and commercial zones, using tricycles for transport of the material. They segregate the materials and sell them to middlemen who in turn deliver them to recyclers and companies using the material as raw materials. The status of middlemen varies between formalized and informal collectives. The waste pickers operate in the informal sector work contracts, health insurance or workers benefits.


The average income of the waste picker can range from 120 to 250 USD per month, depending on the recyclable materials being gathered. Many of the waste pickers earn more than the national minimum wage.

Law and Policy

The Constitutional Organic Law of Municipalities, within the Constitution of Chile (1980) establishes, in its article number 19, the right of the inhabitants to live in a pollution-free environment.

In 1994, the Framework Environmental Law (“Ley de Bases del Medio Ambiente”) was approved, establishing the use of controlled landfills for the disposal of MSW.

The treatment of solid waste is governed by assorted laws, decrees and rules:

The Sanitary Code 1968 establishes the responsibility of the municipalities to collect, to transport and to eliminate waste residues produced on urban ways, appropriately.


Integrated Waste Management Policy: In 2005 the Integrated Waste Management Policy was approved (CONAMA 2005b). This policy establishes seven specific objectives, such as the minimization of health impacts caused by improper waste management, improve environmental education and citizens’ participation in recycling programs, develop solid waste data bases, among others. The policy proposes a list of priorities in handling waste, consisting of the avoidance of waste in first place, followed by recycling strategies and finally, the disposal of waste that cannot be recovered.

Organisation and Voice

In 1997, the Union Association of Independent Collectors (ASRI for its Spanish acronym) was set up to help informal collectors formalize their work, to provide them with identity cards and to and regulate stock centers. However, ASRI does not exist anymore but several of its activists and leaders have have promoted the National Movement of Recyclers of Chile (MNRCH) or “el movimiento nacional de recicladores de Chile”. The movement promotes the formalization of waste pickers, provides critical networking between recyclers at the regional, national and international level and encourages the exchange of experiences and collaboration, in a bid to improve the livelihood of Chilean waste pickers.


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