Author Archive

Resourceful music lovers in Paraguay: Landfill Harmonic

Posted on: February 1st, 2013 by and

Check out this video about resourceful music lovers in Paraguay: Landfill Harmonic is an upcoming feature-length documentary about a remarkable musical orchestra in Paraguay, where young musicians play instruments made from trash. For more information about the film, please visit

Participatory Video: A Tool for Capacity Development, Community Networking and Awareness Building

Posted on: April 3rd, 2012 by and

Worldwide, the number of livelihoods in both developing and developed countries that depend on resource recovery is increasing. These groups often suffer from social exclusion, being seen as ‘dumpster divers’ or ‘scavengers’. However, they provide a valuable environmental service by diverting materials from the waste stream.

Participatory Video (PV) is a strategy increasingly applied as a tool for developing capacity and empowering socially marginalized groups. PV uses video as a medium to allow the voices of excluded and disempowered groups to be heard. This methodology can create positive social and environmental change by building awareness throughout the broader community about issues facing marginalized groups. PV can also catalyze discussions at a governmental level leading toward policies directed at creating inclusive governance and reducing social exclusion.

As part of the Participatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM) initiative, PV projects were carried out in Brazil and Canada with the goal of mobilizing experiences and knowledge of recyclers.

Read our next blog to learn about these projects and their outcomes.

  • Community-Based Research Lab

*This blog was based on:

Gutberlet, J.2008, Recycling Citizenship, recovering resources: Urban poverty reduction in Latin America. Ashgate, Aldershot, 163 pp.

Gutberlet, J. 2010. Participatory video for empowerment. In D. Clover, B. Jayme, S. Follen, B. Hall (3rd Ed), The Nature of Transformation (pp. 121–125). ISBN 0-919971-35-0

Health and Informal Recycling

Posted on: March 22nd, 2012 by and

Informal recycling is a widespread activity among the global poor, particularly in the global South. It involves collecting, sorting, and commercializing recyclable materials from the waste stream with the aim of generating or supplementing income.  These recyclers, known as catadores (pickers) in Brazil and as Binners in the global North (in Victoria, for example), perform an important role within their communities by removing recyclable materials from the waste stream and from eventual land filling or incineration. They further benefit their communities by cleaning up waste material which is often polluting the streets and waterways.

As a consequence of performing these services, the informal recyclers are putting their own health at risk. Collecting waste materials exposes the recyclers to hazardous working conditions, contaminated waste materials, and unsafe sanitary conditions.  Social health issues are also a consequence of informal recycling. Often the informal recyclers are among the most marginalized, and stigmatized parts of the population, and are regularly viewed as “waste pickers” rather than as “environmental service providers”.

While informal recyclers put their own health at risk, they are helping to improve the health of their communities, and surrounding environment. Uncollected waste can produces serious environmental health impacts. It can contaminate water as well can lead to the spread of insects, rodents, and fungus, which transmit infectious diseases.

In Brazil, there are estimated to be between 800,000 and 1 million informal recyclers (Gutberlet & Baeder, 2008, p.2). These people base their livelihoods on resource recovery, and perform this activity either on an individual or collective basis.  Through door-to-door collection, the recyclers act as environmental agents in generating awareness for responsible consumption within the local community. They further contribute to redirecting resources, thereby reducing environmental impacts from waste disposal. By collecting and removing solid waste from the waste stream, recyclers also prevent the extraction of virgin resources and thus indirectly contribute to resource and energy conservation.

It is evident that these recyclers contribute to environmental health by reducing pressures on raw resources and removing waste from eventual land filling or incineration, as well as contribute to community health in generating environmental awareness and in removing waste from the street.  However, as mentioned before, the important environmental role that these recyclers perform is often not recognized within their communities. In fact, these people are marginalized, disempowered, and are socially and economically excluded from the rest of the community.

To tackle both the issues of waste management, and the issues surrounding informal recycling, a system of inclusive or participatory waste management was brought forth in Brazil. In formalizing recyclers into cooperatives, it provides them with a means of alleviating many of the risks associated with informal recycling. The cooperatives provide the recyclers with a sense of empowerment and social inclusion, helping to steer perceptions of these recyclers away from being social nuisances, to viewing them as environmental service providers.  Further, cooperatives provide the recyclers with higher earnings.  Health risks related to selective waste collection are also diminished through the cooperative system. Co-ops create a space where recyclers can sort and bring their waste, instead of having to perform these activities in the street or in their homes.

By creating a formalized waste management system, communication between the recyclers and local government is also facilitated. The benefits of this are seen both through recognition of the recyclers as service providers, providing them with adequate remuneration, as well as through enhanced working conditions. Funding from local government can provide personal protective equipment for workers, as well as equipment such as carts which facilitates waste collection for the workers.

Inclusive waste management in Brazil is the focus of a project deriving from University of Victoria’s Community Based Research Lab, in conjunction with the University of São Paulo. Under supervision from Dr.  Jutta Gutberlet, many masters and PhD students have contributed to this project, entitledParticipatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM), as well as other, similar projectsThe issue of health and solid waste collection in particular has been a focus of masters student Eric Binion. If you are interested in learning more about this project, or about selective waste management in general, please check out our website at, or contact the CBRL.

Healing waste and food systems in Diadema, Brazil

Posted on: March 22nd, 2012 by and

“The transformation of integrated organic waste management from concept into material practice stands as a political statement advocating a different socioenvironmental future”
(Yates, J., & Gutberlet, J., 2011, p. 2117)

The current model of waste production in Brazil is unsustainable and is resulting in “a myriad [of] environmental and health hazards” (Yates, J., & Gutberlet, J., 2011, p. 2115). To read about food production and waste in the city of Diadema, please see our previous blog, Food Production and Waste in Diadema, Brazil.

Recently, efforts have been made to reduce these hazards and to move toward a healthier system. In Diadema, informal recyclers, recycling co-operatives, and a local recycling program have helped reduce the amount of recyclable inorganic materials in landfills.

Attention has also been directed towards reducing organic food waste in landfills. Recently, the local government in Diadema supported the establishment of a network of community gardens, called hortas comunitarios, located on municipal land. The government has also started food banks, affordable ‘people’s restaurants’, and a project to revive the cultural importance of agriculture.

As part of the Participatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM) project, a pilot program was carried out in Diadema exploring the potential of Integrated Organic Waste Management (IOWM). IOWM is a cyclical process which aims to recirculate the value of waste, by:

  • Creating options for waste treatment
  • Connecting urban agriculture with solid waste management
  • Formalizing recycling processes through: awareness in the community, compensation for involved parties, and development of regulations
  • Involving multiple political agents

During the pilot program, catadorescollected food waste from 41 households twice a week and brought it to a local community garden.There, gardeners processed the waste to produce nutrient-rich soil for the garden. The arrangement was mutually beneficial; in exchange for the food waste, gardeners gave some of the food grown in the garden to the catadores, participating households, and youth in a nearby rehabilitation centre.

While the IOWM pilot program had many positive outcomes, there were some technical, social and political tensions which limited its success. Some residents complained that collection of food waste was too infrequent, leading them to put their food waste in the garbage. A lack of awareness about the potential benefits of the program also limited participation. Catadores noted that some of the households that did not participate felt hostility towards the recyclers, or were ambivalent to selective waste collection. There were also issues in the community gardens. In Diadema, many are unstable because of: conflict, lack of organization, and insecure land tenure.

There were also political challenges, including government organization. Catadores complained that in meetings with officials, verbal support was often given to the recyclers’ concerns, but didn’t result in any active changes.

The partnership between catadoresand gardeners is helping to improve socioecological conditions by “reconfigur[ing] uneven urban environments” (Yates, J., & Gutberlet, J., 2011, p. 2121). Globally, marginalized groups are increasingly turning toward waste recovery as a way to support themselves. Inclusive waste management has great potential to empower marginalized groups and alter global waste flows.

In many places, these socioecological changes are already taking place. What is needed, then, is a deeper understanding of the overarching trends and the formation of a theoretical reconfiguration framework to apply to urban environments worldwide.

*This blog is based on:

Gutberlet, J., Yates, J (2011). Reclaiming and recirculating urban natures: integrated organic waste management in Diadema, Brazil. Environment and Planning, 43, 2109-2124.

Managing Waste with Inclusive Recycling

Posted on: March 20th, 2012 by and

“Wherever we pass, we make the difference! […] I have learned to speak, to fight for my rights and to help other conquer their rights”
Monica, a leader of the catadores(recyclers) in Diadema, Brazil

Globally, the number of commodities, goods and people circulating is growing. These flows generate growing amounts of waste, creating pressing management challenges. Increasingly, local governments, environmentalists, academics and community members are faced with the challenge of finding waste management strategies that are “socially, economically and environmentally adequate” (Gutberlet, 2012, p. 19).

Currently, landfills are still the most popular waste management option. However, rising operation costs as well as concerns for community and environmental health have caused managers to seek alternative waste management options. In addition updated legislation, such as for example the 2011 federal law on solid waste management in Brazil, requires municipalities to find better solutions for their waste challenges.

Incineration, or ‘Waste to Energy’ (WtE) technology, has been publicized as ‘clean technology’. However, there are many environmental and social problems associated with incineration, including air pollution and loss of employment in other waste management areas (see our blog “Waste to Energy: Wasting Resources and Livelihoods”for more details).

“Inclusive waste management translates into opportunities to generate work, to redistribute income and to benefit environmental health” (p. 22)           

Inclusive waste management means managing waste with reuse and recycling practices, while aiming to promote social equity and environmental sustainability.In many countries, inclusive waste recycling has been gaining attention as it addresses many of the complications associated with landfills and WtE technologies. The process involves recovering certain types of refuse from the waste stream and transforming them into usable goods.

By recognizing the value of discarded materials, recycling has the potential to benefit the environment and local communities. Unlike landfills and incineration, recycling reintroduces materials into the production cycle, which reduces pressure on virgin natural resources. Recycling also reduces the release of dangerous greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, which are byproducts of the other waste treatment methods.

Resource recovery can contribute to local livelihoods and economies. In countries with large income inequalities such as Brazil, as much as 1% of the population earns a living by collecting recyclable materials. Increasingly, recyclers in Brazil’s urban areas are organizing into cooperatives (see our blog “Waste, Poverty, and Recycling” for more details). These groups empower the recyclers and legitimize their work.

In the sorting and processing stages alone, recycling supports “10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration” (ILSR, 2006, n.p.). Recycling also benefits economies at the national scale. In Brazil, it is estimated that if all recyclable materials were diverted from the waste stream, the recycling sector would contribute more than 5 billion US$ to the national economy (IPEA 2010).

The environmental and social consequences of landfills and incineration indicate the need for a different approach to managing waste. Managers should look towards inclusive recycling to address the impacts of landfills and incineration and benefit the environment, communities and economies. Ultimately, implementing inclusive recycling schemes can improve human and ecosystem health and contribute to achieving the Millenium Development Goal of poverty alleviation.

This blog is based on: Gutberlet, J. (2012). Informal and cooperative recycling as a poverty eradication strategy. Geography Compass, (6), 19-34.

Solidarity economy and recycling co-ops in São Paulo: micro credit to alleviate poverty

Posted on: March 13th, 2012 by and

“We can’t sell our material for such a low price; it does not pay our work” Informal Recycler, PSWM meeting, 13 July 2006

Co-operative recycling is a form of social economy which helps to build human, social, financial, political, and natural assets. Social or solidarity economy is defined as a bottom-up initiative, holding business ethics of solidarity and collaboration rather than being primarily profit oriented. In the context of Brazil, social or solidarity economy is seen as new forms of production, distribution, finance and/or consumption emerging out of a scenario of poverty, encompassing the voluntary sector, cooperatives and associations as well as new institutional social and economic experiences. Common values found within the social or solidarity economy are related to co-operation and sharing. Other key attributes include autonomy or self-determination, co-operation and reciprocity, which are seen as building blocks for social cohesion, decentralization and deliberation, and transparency. These attributes create the potential for social innovation, for effective social cohesion, and for collaborative work spaces to function efficiently.

In Brazil, informal recyclers, or catadores, have built livelihoods around selective collection and commercialisation of recyclables from the waste stream.  The material is collected daily, and is usually sold to an intermediate business. In 2005, many of these recyclers in the São Paulo region collaborated in the PSWM project, which aimed to strengthen the capacity of the recyclers and local governments in the interests of inclusive waste management through organizing and strengthening the recycling groups in the region.

One particular initiative of the PSWM project was to build collective commercialisation and micro finance schemes for the recyclers. The recyclers typically had sold materials to intermediaries for lower prices, which exposed them to exploitation. Microfinance schemes allow recyclers to expand the scale and scope of their practices through higher levels of organization and increased capacity, and to collaborate directly with the industry. An issue with this scheme is that selling directly to industry requires large volumes of material, access to transport, and persistent quality. Networking and collective commercialisation were key tools in allowing the recyclers to overcome these hurdles. Trustful relationships between different recycler groups allowed their members to collaborate amongst themselves to collect sufficient quantities of materials to sell directly to the industries. On average, groups earned 55 per cent more through the networking scheme (Gutberlet, 2009).

In 2006, PSWM launched its first workshop on micro-finance. Many of the groups which were a part of collective commercialisation networks participated with the objective of creating a micro-credit fund. Collective commercialization involves a high level of uncertainty in the conduct of financial transactions, which had often caused delays in payment and resulted in feelings of insecurity and frustration for the groups involved. Further, many groups did not have transportation facilities, and thus were still dependent on local intermediaries to pick up the material.   Micro-credit was identified as a solution to the time delay in collective commercialization, as well as to the issue of transportation.  In 2007, two used trucks were bought through a new project to assist in collective commercialisation.

From this process, it was determined that collective commercialization and micro-finance are essential and complementary tools within social and solidarity economy.  They are solutions which help address issues of poverty and inequality, by contributing to transform the roles of informal recyclers into environmental service providers.

*This blog is based on: Gutberlet, J. (2009). Solidarity economy and recycling co-ops in São Paulo: micro-credit to alleviate poverty. Development in Practice, 19(6), 737-751.

Food production and waste in Diadema, Brazil

Posted on: February 12th, 2012 by and

“Brazil contains 26% of the world’s cultivable land… it is the second highest exporter of food, behind the United States… At the same time, approximately two thirds of its people go hungry”

(Oths et al., 2003, p. 306, as cited in Gutberlet, J., & Yates, J., 2011, p. 2113)

“…flows of waste [in Diadema] produce a myriad of environmental and health hazards – particularly at the margins of metropolitan areas, where social exclusion, waste accumulation, and environmental degradation combine”

(Gutberlet and Hunter, 2008, as cited in Yates and Gutberlet, 2011, p. 2113)

In Brazil, 237 of the total 5507 municipalities practice selective waste collection. Unsurprisingly, marginalized populations aren’t part of these few districts. Socially excluded groups, usually located at the peripheries of urban centres, suffer the most from environmental and health consequences of waste dumping.

Food production in Brazil is highly centralized and food security is dependent on financial wealth. There is little food production in densely populated areas. Groups who aren’t living in either rural areas, where fruits and vegetables are produced, or in economic cores, where fresh foods are sold, often find it difficult and expensive to access healthy food.

Diadema, located on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, is an example of a district with low access to fruits and vegetables due to its location between rural and highly urban areas. More than a quarter of the population in Diadema lives in low income settlements, called favelas. In addition to inadequate access to healthy foods, a growing number of controlled and uncontrolled landfills are an emerging health concern. In fact, in many places socially excluded groups are also physically excluded. Growing piles of garbage form physical divisions between the city and favelacommunities.

According to a study carried out in Diadema, nearly three-quarters of household waste is from food. Nutrients in organic waste are often “combined with hazardous wastes and dumped unproductively into unprotected land and water” (p. 2113). In this system, nutrients end up in piles of waste and are not returned to agricultural soil. As a result, Brazil is simultaneously experiencing declining soil nutrient levels in rural areas, and growing food waste in urban landfills.

In Diadema, the combination of “social exclusion, waste accumulation, and environmental degradation” (p. 2117) has aggravated environmental and health hazards. Read our next blog, Healing the Waste and Food Systems in Diadema, Brazil, to learn about initiatives aimed at reducing these hazards.

*This blog is based on:

Gutberlet, J., Yates, J (2011). Reclaiming and recirculating urban natures: integrated organic waste management in Diadema, Brazil. Environment and Planning, 43, 2109-2124

The everyday politics of implementing IOWM

Posted on: January 24th, 2012 by and

“The people who live here in Diadema, they focus on what is work for them: working in industry or commerce … Diadema is a town where people have their heads in [the] urban … people do not give the minimum importance to the compost, the same way as it was with the community vegetable gardens … It is the product of the city”
(Representatives from Abastecimento Publico, as quoted in Yates & Gutberlet, 2010)

In the previous two blogs we have explored the policy context surrounding Integrated Organic Waste Management in Diadema. Given this context, this post will help to explain why initiatives such as IOWM often struggle, despite being environmentally, socially, and politically desirable.

One such issue exists within the community members in Diadema. Interviews conducted with municipal representatives viewed waste management as an environmental policy and urban agriculture and food security as a social policy. While this gap exists, there was a degree of recognitions for the need for progressive coalitions between social and environmental policy makers, such as the Fome Zero (Zero Huner) programme.  However, the lack of “horizontal cooperation within government” (Yates  & Gutberlet, 2010) often results in policy makers stating that certain issues are “not of their concern”, which presents a barrier to progressive policy-making.

Too often as well, municipal representatives will claim ownership of a particular project for political gain. This act, while seeming to engage municipal government with local project, actually contributes to perpetuate the uneven socio-political dynamics between the powerful actor, and the marginalized actor.

Another issue with initiatives such as IOWM is accorduing to municipal representatives, ‘the people often don’t have the culture’, or in other words, do not feel a sense of connection or importance with their work. As reflected by representatives from Abastecimento Publico, in the context of local food production, a culture of agricultural production and composting does not exist” in Diadema (Yates & Gutberlet, 2010).  The perspectives of these municipal representatives further reflect the political problem displacement which exists in local government, stating an inability or reluctance amongst the local population as a barrier to effective waste management, food security, or other community development projects.  In actuality, many residents have voiced pro-environmental values, and have voiced opinions of optimism in relation to selective waste-collection and the notion of IOWM.

While the residents clearly portray pro-environmental values, there are still many who do not help to provide organic waste to recyclers. Similarly, community gardeners were frustrated by a ‘lack of interest of many that don’t want to work’. These discrepancies stem from differing values on urban agriculture and selective waste collection. For many residents, agriculture is perceived as ‘the labour of the countryside’.

To reverse this conception, municipal decision makers are encouraging community gardeners in Diadema to organise themselves into cooperatives to facilitate collective bargaining and the commercialisation of their products. Still, there exists a lack of land-tenure agreements which can have adverse affects on community gardeners, hinting at the need for a policy change which secures land tenure agreements for groups that carry out productive activities, and are committed to urban agriculture.

While power-relations between civil and political society remain unequal, while a lack of institutional and policy support exists, and while environmental education to stimulate social engagement remains at a minimum, urban agriculture and IOWM will remain on the fringes of the political, social and economic realms.

*This blog is based on:

Yates, J. & Gutberlet, J. (2010). Enhancing Livelihoods and the Urban Environment: The Local Political Framework for Integrated Organic Waste Management in Diadema, Brazil. Journal of Development Studies 47(4), 1-18.

Community gardens in Diadema

Posted on: January 17th, 2012 by and

“If there is an area where there is now a garden, and it is being very well developed – the community is going there to buy food, and if everybody is happy – no mayor will have the courage to come and say ‘no, we will take it away from here”
(Representative from Abastecimento Publico, as cited in Yates & Gutberlet, 2010)

Community Gardens are public urban agricultural plots under the management of local residents, rather than local government. While they may fall on public land and may be provided with assistance from the local governments through either start up or capacity building, the gardens are open to public involvement. Groups of gardeners manage both the land and food distribution, and it is these groups and their families who consume the food. Surplus is directed towards supporting community members and institutions or to markets.

Many of these community gardens have emerged in the municipality of Diadema as a result of the cities proactive policies aimed at enhancing food security. In 2003, the city established CONSEAD (the Diadema Council on Food Security) to operate within Brazil’s Fome Zero programme, a strategy to ensure the human right to adequate nutrition for people with difficult food access.

In spite of these progressive policies facilitating the implementation of community gardens, political turmoil in Brazil often results in chronic instability, negatively impacting recycling groups. Periods of instability where enforcement of government legislation rapidly disintegrates poses a particular problem to community gardens, as a lack of collective organization leaves them vulnerable to land tenure agreements.  Should there be a shift in political emphasis away from Fome Zero and towards, for example, building infrastructure to relieve overcrowded slums, the municipality possesses the power and right to retract their land offerings so as to meet the infrastructure or housing objectives. Without legal protection, community gardeners are disempowered in the legal fight for land-use rights. Diadema in particular has a high demand for land. Consequently, the municipal government is under extreme pressure to find available land and provide affordable housing, which makes the tenure of community gardens extremely fragile without the sufficient legal support.

*This blog is based on:

Yates, J. & Gutberlet, J. (2010). Enhancing Livelihoods and the Urban Environment: The Local Political Framework for Integrated Organic Waste Management in Diadema, Brazil. Journal of Development Studies 47(4), 1-18.

Enhancing livelihoods and the urban environment: Framework for integrated organic waste management

Posted on: December 16th, 2011 by and

The local political framework for integrated organic waste management in Diadema, Brazil.

Participatory integrated organic waste management (IOWM) re-circulates the value in household organic waste by combining the collection of organic waste by a group of autonomous recyclers, with composting and urban agriculture. Participatory IOWM promotes the practical use of a specific type of waste (organic), includes the integration of informative, economic and regulatory mechanisms, and can help enhance local food security and build a form of community or solidarity economy.

Currently in the Sao Paulo region there is no formal selective collection of organic waste. However, in conjunction with the city’s informal recycling program Vida Limpa (Clean Life), the recycling organisation Pacto ambiental (Environmental Pact), gardeners at the community garden in Diadema, local community residents, and local government, this research explored the potential for a IOWM program to be implemented in Diadema given the local and political context.

Brazil’s political climate has been led by the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT – Workers Party) for a large part of the last three decades. This party has been defined by their left-leaning, participatory, bottom-up policies, which have promoted the proliferation of participatory approaches in Brazil, allowing marginalized populations to have their hand in shaping policy developments.

In the Sao Paulo region of Brazil, two thirds of civil organisations working with popular sectors are involved in new participatory institutional arrangements, and the municipality of Diadema has gained recognition for its encouragement of popular participation.  Diadema was the first municipality to support informal recyclers with an official policy of remuneration for their informal recycling program (see Blog on Case Study of Diadema for more information).

Despite these progressive policies, fragmentation between institutions, participatory spaces, and policies has often resulted in a barrier to the implementation of waste management schemes. Therefore, it is crucial that deliberative policy-making be employed to address the issue of the un-even decision making process. What this means is that a bottom-up process of producing more equitable urban environments must be facilitated as it fosters effective participation and positive interplay between government commitment, civic virtues, and supportive institutional design.

In order to establish a facilitative framework for IOWM, it is required to address the issue of how to organise community-driven processes that seek to appropriate a political space that is currently dominated by formal political institutions. The focus must be put on deliberative decision-making in Diadema, using deliberative space as a means of facilitating this decision making. Deliberative space consists of informal discussions, meetings, and ideologies that define interactions between political and civil society, between recyclers’ organisations, community gardeners and local government.

*This blog is based on:

Yates, J. & Gutberlet, J. (2010). Enhancing Livelihoods and the Urban Environment: The Local Political Framework for Integrated Organic Waste Management in Diadema, Brazil. Journal of Development Studies 47(4), 1-18.