Valoristes place 4th in Quebec iDDées contest for sustainable development

Posted on: July 10th, 2013 by

On June 12, the Quebec Action Fund for Sustainable Development (FAQDD) and the selection committee of its iDDées contest selected seven out of 182 sustainable development proposals. The FAQDD will provide practical support to these seven projects that represent emerging ideas in sustainable development.

“Ultimately, we hope that the deployment of these iDDées in structured projects, supported by the best partners, allows us to realize the full potential of these initiatives behavioral changes in addition to respond to various issues relevant to society Quebec” says FAQDD executive director, Ms. Véronique Jampierre.

Congratulations to Coopérative de solidarité les Valoristes for winning 4th prize. FAQDD and the iDDées contest will support the Valoristes in accomplishing their vision of establishing a bottle depot cooperative in Montreal. The solidarity cooperative in Montreal aims to “protect and promote the role of ‘valoristes’, a person who can easily integrate the conventional job market and contribute to the collection of documented and reusable materials as compensation and return returnable containers”.

To learn more about other contest winners such as Nature Quebec, a project facilitating business opportunities for timber industry waste materials, visit:

Meet Chris-A Quebec valoriste

Posted on: June 13th, 2013 by

“Like many other Montreal binners, Chris also believes our beverage refunding system should not be abolished by the provincial government and that the solution for both binners and beverage distributors lies in the creation of bottle depots throughout Quebec”

-Marica Vazquez Tagliero: Founder of Les Valoristes recycling cooperative in Montreal

Update: Les Valoristes awarded 2013 scholarship

Posted on: June 8th, 2013 by

Les Valoristes, a newly established recycling cooperative in Montreal, Quebec, has been awarded a social entrepreneurship scholarship by the Institut du Nouveau Monde and J.Armand Bombardier Foundation in their Contest To Go project.

Within the scholarship the objectives of the cooperative are many: 

  • Continue to “raise awareness of the reality of valoristes and the valuable work they do every day”
  • To create a central repository dedicated to facilitating and improving current working conditions and to provide a space where valoristes can assert their interests.
  • Provide payment for valoristes at the right price and to develop an activity of micro-credit to invest in equipment work
  • “Reduce social exclusion of people in marginal situations that are often valoristes”
  • Decrease urban pollution

Les Valoristes, representing the first recycling cooperative project in Quebec, has both a social and environmental mission: Helping to contribute to the reduction of urban poverty and acting to decrease environmental pollution by promoting recycling and waste reduction.

To learn more about this project  you can find them at or contact them @: and

To learn more about the other scholarship awards and social entrepreneurship programs by Institut du Nouveau Monde visit:

UWC and Les Valoristes

Posted on: June 6th, 2013 by

Ken Lyotier, founder of Vancouver’s non-profit “United We Can” Bottle Depot visited Montreal, Quebec in November as a special guest at the ‘Pro-Consigne’ sponsored conference ( Lyotier (below) was invited to participate and build support for the newly established binners coop called ‘Les Valoristes’. The event, which brought together activists, lobbyists from the beverage and supermarket industry, government and academics, included a series of presentations and a panel on the social and economic implications, benefits and challenges of expanding the beverage container program in the province. 

Ken Lyotier (pictured here in Montreal) started UWC in the early 90’s while surviving on binning in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.

The charitable organization United We Can (UWC) started in the 90’s, when few bottles were included in BC’s deposit system, limiting income for binners through bottle collection and return. Ken Lyotier realized that by expanding the refund-deposit system large amounts of plastic and glass could be saved from the landfill, as well as increase income opportunities for Vancouver binners. In an attempt to bring attention to the deposit issue, Lyotier asked fellow binners to drop their containers in Victory Square, located in the Downtown Eastside 

“Binners were lining up all around the park and up Hastings Street, Lyotier recalled, and built a huge mountain of bottles”. Soon after this event, the B.C. government agreed to expand the refund-deposit system in the amount refunded and the type of beverage containers included. Lyotier then created UWC as a social enterprise bottle depot in 1995. UWC operates by offering cash in exchange to anyone bringing containers that are a part of the extended scheme. UWC is a financially independent social enterprise operated by and for informal recyclers.

Since the creation of UWC 18 years ago “700 binners drop off about 55,000 recyclables to the bottle depot each day, and up to 120,000 on a busy summer day.” A “professional binner can make up to $20 dollars for a big collection [and] annually, UWC pays $2.7 million in deposits back to the community.”

Today, a similar co-op founded in Montreal, called Les Valoristes, is facing a familiar battle to that of UWC’s in the early 90’s. In Montreal, the former Liberal government had agreed to “increase the price of refundable containers from $0.05 to $0.10 in 2013”. The outcome of the provincial elections last September however, placed Parti Québéquois in power, who have since put the brakes on the proposed deposit increase for recyclables. The amount of the bottle refund in Montreal has stayed the same since its creation in 1984, without adjusting to inflation. Compared to the rest of Canada, Quebec is vastly behind in creating incentives for a return system.

For Les Valoristes, “fighting provincial laws and powerful food and drink retailers for an expansion of the deposit-refund system in Quebec”, is integral for Montreal’s binning community. The founder of the co-op, Marica Vazquz Tagliero argues “the refund system is a powerful tool not only against urban pollution, but also against poverty.”

Les Valoristes Coopérative de Solidarité

On the cold morning of -3 degrees 8,000 non-refundable beverage containers were collected in less than 2 hours.

In an act similar to UWC’s, Montreal local binners brought in about 8,000 containers in less than two hours during the “container-gathering event” last November 2012 (above). The compiled containers, “not valid for refund in Quebec but refundable in B.C.”, hoped to send a strong message to the Quebec Government regarding the expansion of the Province’s deposit system.

Les Valoristes Coopérative de Solidarité

Each valoristes received 10 cents for each container they brought. Funding for this was financed entirely from a donation by Ken Lyotier.

Despite operating in different cities, both Les Valoristes and UWC work towards a common goal of drawing public attention to the social benefits associated with improved deposit-refund systems. Les Valoristes view UWC as a model “of social involvement in addressing city waste management issues”, and are working hard in hopes of one day creating a UWC-style depot in Montreal. Tagliero “praises the success of [UWC] for maintaining an informal economy while helping those in need earn an income, clean the city and improve their quality of life”.

There is a strong emergence of binning in Canada, but the work of collecting recyclables is not limited to this country; it is a global phenomena. According to University of Victoria professor Jutta Gutberlet, who studies the binning business in Canada and in Brazil,  “UWC’s business plan could be applied in just about any urban area in the world”. In her view, urban waste issues can be solved with social and economic inclusion of this community.

Recognizing the important services of the binning community is vital to both environmental and social well-being. Governments, both within Canada and globally, need to recognize these communities and adopt adequate recycling policies and deposit systems. As said by Tagliero: “It is time for politicians to […] take action for a more efficient refund system that would benefit the collective well-being”.


*This article is based off the following news articles:

Vancouver bottle depot seen as a model in Montreal (January 7, 2013) by Anne-Laurence Godfrey from The Source (

La consigne des canettes restera à 5 ¢ pour le moment (December 21, 2012) from Radio-Canada (

*Photos taken by Alietti St-Pierre and provided by Marcia Vazquz Tagliero. 

GreenScience Takes Inspiration from Mother Nature

Posted on: March 3rd, 2013 by

The way our society deals with garbage, specifically organic waste, is archaic, wasteful and frankly indefensible. Watch this video to see how GreenScience, taking inspiration from mother nature, experiments with finding a better way.


The effects of handling solid waste on the wellbeing of informal and organized recyclers: A review of the literature. By Eric Binion and Jutta Gutberlet

Posted on: February 19th, 2013 by

“Is the drastically shortened lifespan—the injuries, accidents, deaths—a direct outcome of the informal occupation or is it a result of the variables of inhabiting a marginalized socio-economic living standard?”

Eric Binion and Jutta Gutberlet co-author an article titled “The Effects of Handling Solid Waste on the Wellbeing of Informal and Organized Recyclers: a Review of the Literature”. This article summarizes the literature on the subject of reported health risks —both observed and perceived— of informal recycling (44).

The title ‘informal recycler’ is “linguistically diverse”, identified colloquially in Brazil as catadores or carrinheiros, in Argentina as cartoneros or recuperadores urbanos, as binners in North America, or as zabaleen in Egypt (43). “Informal recycler” is used in Binion and Gutberlet’s review to generalize “all individuals involved in the informal solid waste recovery sector” (43).

“Studies with informal recyclers and health have been completed worldwide, particularly in Brazil Vietnam, the Philippines, Argentina, and South Asia” (44). The studies have accumulated evidence showing the serious risk that the informal recycling occupation poses to both the environment and human health. The literature review by Binion and Gutberlet is an “accumulation of existing studies, followed by a collection of the nascent work being developed by researchers particularly in the South” (44). 

The following six sub-themes are addressed: chemical hazards, infection, ergonomic and musculoskeletal damage, mechanical-trauma, emotional wellbeing and vulnerabilities, and environmental contamination. This report also addresses the benefits of operating within a recycling cooperative (45).

Chemical Hazards:

Informal recyclers often occupy landfills or city streets where they are exposed to toxic chemical substances and are placed in work related situations where they inhale “burning waste or vehicle and heavy machinery emissions” (45). “There have been numerous documented self-reported respiratory ailments, such as decreased lung function, lung infections, and eye irritation, as a result of diesel fuel exhaust and burning waste (45). Also, “the constant exposure to exhaust is thought to be correlated with a higher level of bronchitis reported by recyclers, as well as headaches and nausea” (45). High levels of lead found in the blood of recyclers working in landfills and within the breast milk of women neighboring landfills of recycler communities poses another threat to the health of workers and those in surrounding areas (45).

Unregulated “industrial, pharmaceutical, and hospital waste” are also harmful chemical hazards that are “catalyst[s] for infection” (45).

The Goiania accident in 1987 is an example of failed policy with regard to chemical waste mismanagement. A hospital in Goiania, Brazil “carelessly discarded” nuclear medicine equipment as waste. “Recyclers took this material home to be sorted and dismantled, allowing radiation to leak and infect themselves, their families, and their friends. The event led to four deaths and radioactive contamination of 249 individuals” (45).

“In addition to radioactive hospital waste, pharmaceutical rejects may be illegally disposed of in landfills or left in the streets to be picked or sorted through by children” (45).


Recyclers working without adequate protection are at risk of infection from pathological waste generated by the improper disposal of “medical waste, solid household waste, human waste, and decaying organic matter” (46).

“Mishandling solid waste, such as medical waste and syringes, is one of the higher perceived occupational threats for the informal recycler” (46).

“Infections may occur by direct contact with biological pathogens, such as hepatitis B or through exposure to biological contamination resulting in respiratory ailments, “a leading complaint perceived by informal recyclers” (46).

o   “In Metro Manila’s main dump site, 974 children were examined, 24% of which had chronic cough, 25% wheezing, and 19% a shortness of breath. At the same dump site 10 years earlier, out of 750 informal recyclers, 70% had upper-respiratory ailments, including tuberculosis, pneumonia, asthma, and bronchitis (46).

o   A similar study in Managua, Nicaragua, demonstrated that children who pick waste exhibited a decrease in lung function and wheezing due to a higher exposure in particulates” (46).

o   Kennedy et al discovered that nasal infections and acute chest symptoms experienced by individuals working in bottle return stores were associated with “endotoxins derived from decaying waste growing in bottles” (46).

Stomach infections are also common among informal recyclers as  “economic hardship occasionally pushes recyclers to consume recovered food leading to “intestinal diseases such as worms, flukes, and viruses” and “food poisoning [that] may cause diarrhea, parasitic infection, and nausea” (46).

The incidence of acute diarrhea was 10 times greater in informal recyclers than in the general population” and “in stool samples taken from children working in Manila, it was confirmed that 98% had parasites, either Trichuris trichiura, Ascaris lumbricoides, or both” (46).

Ergonometric and Musculoskeletal Damage

“Ergonometric injuries consist of musculoskeletal illness, the direct result of repeatedly moving and lifting heavy objects, such as carts and bags filled with solid waste” (46). Informal recyclers are prone to “sprains, fatigue, muscle pain” “lumbar disc prolapse, neck disorders, tendon disease, and increased pulmonary ventilation as a result of frequent “squatting, vibration, repetitive movements and awkward postures while sorting and collecting solid waste (46).

“Reports from a US study on formal sanitation workers revealed that arthritis was four times more common in sanitation workers than in general laborers , which coincides with self-assessed reports from informal recyclers in Brazil” (46).

Recycling cooperatives, “although not a means or end-product to alleviating all health issues”, do provide benefits that respond to the aforementioned reported health risks. For example, “working together in a cooperative can reduce over exhaustion and over working, which are factors in musculoskeletal damage, stress, anxiety, and depression” (49).

Mechanical Trauma

The threat of vehicular accidents, the dangers of working at night, a lack of safety equipment and medical opportunities is a justified problem in the informal recycling center around the world. Recyclers deal with mechanical accidents such as “cuts, blunt trauma, falls, lacerations, and traffic accidents” on a daily basis (47).

“17% of recyclers in Vietnam mentioned being involved in either a minor or major collision with garbage trucks” (47).

Recyclers also often prefer to work barehanded for “greater tactility”, but a lack of safety equipment leads to a “common occurrence of lacerations to the hands, arms, and legs (47).

The mechanical trauma’s that recyclers face in their line of work brings up another issue: medical care.

“Regardless of high-or low-income countries, the informal recyclers appear to wait too long before seeking medical help thus increasing the likelihood of infection” (47).

There are varying reasons for recyclers to postpone medical care. “Recyclers in Guatemala reported avoiding health clinics and hospitals when injured or sick for fear of discrimination” (48), and “only 32% of the recyclers in Columbia went to see the doctor when they were ill, citing lack of health coverage as the issue” (47). And in the situations where “informal recyclers may have access to health care, it may be impossible to receive the care, as at times, they are requested to take work off, which is not fiscally feasible when living on day to day pay” (47).

“In Portland, Oregon, medical records confirmed that the majority of recyclers arriving with lacerations had cuts in such poor states that medical officials were often unable to stitch them” (47).

“Undoubtedly, the issue of medical care can be deemed a social issue, a lack of knowledge of hazards, and an absence of medical opportunities” (47).

Cooperatives provide an option for easier access to health care (49). The recycling cooperative “El Movimiento de Trabajadores Excluidos“ in Buenos Aires, is a part of the Argentina’s workers union that has access to Obras Sociales, a social security network that allows extended health insurance” (49). Further, cooperative members are also provided durable uniforms with reflective strips, and are able to register with the city, thus accessing free gloves and vaccinations, such as tetanus” (49).

Emotional Wellbeing

“Social stigma and marginalization, coupled with the precariousness of the work and lack of financial security can create unnecessary stress” for informal recyclers and lead to a “higher self-assessed degree of vulnerability” (48).

“The public may perceive the informal recyclers in a variety of ways; some assist the recyclers by pre-sorting their materials from the garbage or by providing food, while others socially exclude and marginalize them” (48).

Informal recyclers have self-assessed stress related symptoms that include “ulcers, high blood pressure, and stomach problems” (48). Additionally, “signs of depression and anxiety…occurred 44.7% more in recyclers than within the average neighborhood referent group” according to a study in Brazil (48). In addition to stress-related issues, the social stigma attached to “working in a dirty job” may form a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where informal recyclers “lose [a] sense of dignity” (48).

 · As mentioned, recyclers may consume food from the waste, risking infection.” Further nutrition issues are addressed as social problems” (48).

· “Malnutrition, infant growth retardation, and anemia are more prevalent in individuals and families who work in informal recycling” (48). “Oppositely, improper nutrition can also lead to obesity, as demonstrated in BMI comparisons with recyclers in Columbia” (48).

· Also, due to lack of social support, it is not uncommon to witness “young toddlers to pre-teen children working with or alongside their guardians” at landfills. At a young age “intensive working environments and heavy lifting…can have lifelong negative effects on general health or may have growth-stunting effects” (48).

Environmental Contamination

Informal recyclers play an important role in the “global challenge of environmental stewardship, addressing consumption, and raising awareness on recycling” by challenging and removing the “waste stream that would typically allow waste to be deposited, buried, or incinerated” (48). The long-term effects of working with solid waste however, may not only have negative effects on the physical and emotional health of the workers, but depending on how the materials are “collected, sorted, and transported” certain parts of the environment can also be affected by informal waste collecting” (48).

“Untreated and unregulated waste-streams have the potential to create and continue to spread infectious diseases to informal recyclers and their immediate community” (49).

Incorrect storage of organic waste can create “dangerous molds, toxins, and gases, such as methane, that can put “households, organizations, and cooperatives in danger” (49). The mishandling of waste also allows the “waste stream to propagate into other areas”…”clogging sewers, creating stagnant water, and thus producing breeding grounds for pathogenic organisms, facilitating the spread of diseases such as dengue” (49). Animals, such as livestock, birds, or rats feeding on waste at landfills or informal dump sites increase the potential of diseases, such as trichinosis and taeniasis, to be transmitted (49).

Health and the Cooperative

Most resource recovery is “unassisted and without adequate health protection measures in place” (43). “However, some recyclers in countries such as Brazil and Argentina mobilize to form cooperatives. The cooperatives allow collection, separation, and commercialization of the materials recovered from the solid waste stream in an organized and equitable fashion” (43)

“The creation and use of cooperatives and associations [can] create a working environment that fosters emotional and financial support for their members” (49).  “The activity of informal recyclers has been noted as being “individualistic” and therefore the creation of cooperatives has not been without its set of challenges” (49). Nonetheless, there have been numerous successful cooperatives, such as the aforementioned MTE in Buenos Aires, and many others in Brazil, Columbia, and throughout Latin America (49). Recycling cooperatives, “although not a means or end-product to alleviating all health issues”, does act to “strengthen the organizational base of the recyclers by opening up discourse not only between groups and individuals in other regions, but has also created a “conjoined voice for recyclers when discussing policy matters with local and regional governments” (49).

Binion and Gutberlet’s literature review exemplifies the varying and diverse health risks associated with informal recycling. The formation of a cooperative, “working alongside the government, can progressively move the informal employment into the formal sector” (49), reducing social stigmatization and marginalization and “allowing easier access to legal protection and health care” (49).

This blog entry was based on: 2012  Binion, E. & Gutberlet, J. The effects of handling solid waste on the wellbeing of informal and organized recyclers: A review of the literature. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. 18 (1): 43-52.

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

The Eco-Aides: The Little Soldiers of Ecological Solid Waste Management Project in One of the Cities of the Philippines

Posted on: December 10th, 2012 by

Contributed and authored by Lea Fenix, Philippines ( 

Charlie wakes up at 5 o’clock in the morning, hopped on his bicycle-cart and makes rounds within the barangay (village) where he lives collecting segregated garbage from the households. Once he finishes collection, he would put the garbage inside plastic garbage bins, classifying further into three types of waste: recyclables, bio-degradable and residuals. These garbage bins are picked up by the city garbage trucks and ended in the city’s dumpsite.  When the sanitary landfill starts operating, city’s garbage will have to be thrown in this facility thereby closing the old dumpsite.

Everyday Charlie does this as a way of supporting his small family earning at least P 150 to P 200 ($30-40) daily by selling the recyclable materials which the households would give to him instead of selling them to the junkshops. Some residents also voluntarily give him small amounts in return for picking up their garbage.   

For 13 years, Charlie earns his living by plying passengers through his pedicab (a bicycle with a side cart enough to transport 2 persons, a means of transportation within inner streets of the city). Now, Charlie has become one of the 270 eco-aides in a major city in the Philippines collecting segregated garbage from households as the city practises ecological solid waste management.

The project was funded by the Agencia Espaňola de Cooperacion Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID) or the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation in line with the Republic Act 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act of the Philippines enacted in 2001. Eco-aides like Charlie were selected by their village council to help in the collection of segregated garbage from the households.

In the 49 villages covered by the project, the waste generation and disposal system and problems were identified through consultation with residents and village officials in order to design a more appropriate collection system. Information and education campaign (IEC) activities are being done such as radio plugging, dissemination of leaflets containing information on how to segregate garbage to further to continuously instilled the discipline of segregation. Just lately they have organized themselves and elected their own set of officers.

The city has already passed ordinance requiring business owners and operators to undergo seminar on solid waste management before issuing business permits. A seminar-workshop was done for business sector to identify actions they can do to pursue solid waste management as a way of practising social responsibility.

Also, the schools will integrate the solid waste management in their curriculum through different modules from first to sixth grades. Comics for these pupils will also be issued to further enhance understanding of elementary pupils on ecologically managing waste through this popular medium.

Charlie said that he’s happy with being an eco-aide, aside from the fact that he received a monthly honorarium from the city, he gets other usable items that he is able to use personally from the garbage that the village people throw such as old toys, thermos and videos… truly supporting the truth that garbage is a resource at the wrong place.  



“What role do ‘middle classes’ play in ending poverty, or do they, rather, perpetuate continuous impoverishment?”

Posted on: October 16th, 2012 by

 “How is poverty socially and racially constructed?”

“What are the processes that cause and reiterate persistent poverty on a global scale?”

Dr. Jutta Gutberlet, professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Victoria, draws on Victoria Lawson and the Middle Class Poverty Politics Research Group (MCPPRG) to discuss the role of the middle class in acting in alliance against poverty. In identifying the role of the middle class, she highlights the importance of deconstructing the structural reasons and motivations behind poverty generation and poverty maintenance.

The current structures of our society are built upon economic and political relations deeply entrenched in colonialism and capitalism. These systems create vast inequality and poverty that are perpetuated on a global scale.

Poverty is often framed by a “lack of income, as a consequence of specific class, gender, or racial relations… [or] hegemonically explained in terms of personal abilities, inappropriate behaviour or lack of entrepreneurial engagement.” These common perceptions and attitudes towards poverty are highly influenced by mainstream media and political discourse. Lawson challenges these definitions as they allow for the “measurement” of poverty by “statistics, categories and benchmarks used to indicate social change and progress.”

“Do these statistics and standards really tell us about the wellbeing of individuals or communities, and do they in fact help to deconstruct the structural reasons and motivations behind poverty generation and poverty maintenance?” (20).

Viewing poverty from an objectified and abstracted point of view has the potential to dehumanize and devalue the individuals who are living and experiencing the effects. What is the middle class’ role in this? Statistical measurements can lead to social categorizations that reproduce and reiterate stigma and inequality making “continuous exploitation possible” (20).  

The work of Lawson and the MCPPRG “focuses on the role of the middle class, and the mechanisms in place for acting in opposition to or in solidarity with the poor” (20).

Middle classes are known for playing a key role in capitalist markets, hegemonic political discourses, and neoliberal politics “based on unequal exchange, exploitation and resources extraction”.  Can a new rise in “middle class poverty” be the grounds for a middle class alliance against poverty?

Despite common depictions of the global South being more vulnerable, forces creating poverty and inequality are also present in the global North. Lawson highlights the vulnerability of middle class groups to economic downturns with examples from the economic crisis in Argentina (2001), Thailand (1997), the US and Canada (2008) and the 1994 transition to South Africa (22).

Neoliberal reforms under capitalist and economic systems” have led to expansion in the informal recycling sector in the global South and the global North, stimulating exploitation and exclusion in both regions (21). Individuals in well noted affluent North America and Western Europe also experience deepening social inequality and marginalization materializing in the “reliance on food banks, homelessness and living in crowded spaces, and or long-term unemployment and working full-time just for subsistence” (on Canada see Morissette & Zangh, 2006). Further, the expansion of capitalism in conjunction with colonialism has created both social and environmental poverty in the global South and global North as seen with US industrial decline and the expansion of Brazilian agro-businesses.
No matter the geographic location “no society is immune from the global consequences of capitalistic economic growth and accumulation” (21).

Racial capitalism” is also a central building block of poverty where, like in South Africa after the transition, “‘economic elites remain predominantly white and [black] Africans remain mostly poor”’ (citing MacDonald, 2006: 178) (21).

Our current systems, dangerously driven by capitalist and colonialist politics and economics, create vast inequality and poverty perpetuated on a global scale. With the rise of “persistent poverty” and a “disappearing middle” are collaboration and solidarity “necessary social traits in order to face ecological, social and economic threats…?(22)

Despite middle class alliances expanding in both the international and grassroots contexts, Gutberlet believes that “the voices and mobilizations of the underprivileged themselves are more capable of provoking long-term change for sustainable development” (23). The critical debate then, is whether middle cross-class alliances and networks can “disrupt social polarization and more effectively address poverty reduction…by provoking a necessary paradigm shift towards social inclusion, equity and justice” (23).


*This blog was based on:

Gutberlet, J. (2012). Middle Class Alliances to End Poverty? Commentary on Victoria Lawson with Middle Class Poverty Politics Research Group’s ‘Decentring poverty studies: middle class alliances and the social construction of poverty’. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 33(1), 20-24.


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.