PSWM Program

History • história

Solid waste, informal recycling, and the Catadores

History • história

The Participatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM) project began as a collaboration between the University of Victoria (UVic) in Canada (managed by the Community-Based Research Laboratory) and Centro Universitário Fundação Santo André (University of Santo André) in Brazil. In 2008 an agreement was signed between UVic and the University of São Paulo. The project is a six-year venture funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), through the Association of University and Colleges Collaboration (AUCC) as a Tier II project under the University Partnership Collaboration and Development (UPCD) program. The project was established to focus on participatory waste management as an opportunity to generate income and to improve the quality of life of informal recyclers (called catadores), while promoting environmental sustainability and inclusive public policies on integrated waste management. The project directly addresses environmental sustainability and social exclusion and adopts appropriate capacity-building strategies and policies to tackle urban poverty.

Objectives • Objetivos

Project objectives

Objectives • Objetivos

The program helps to structure, organize and strengthen cooperatives, associations and community groups involved in the recovery of resources from the solid waste stream through supporting cooperatives, micro-credit and the practice of solidarity economy. Activities such as participatory video documentation, workshops on digital inclusion, gender equity and co-management, micro-credit, and collective commercialization all help to further develop the capacity of the leaders from recycling cooperatives. Through these and other activities the program aims to increase the income of the recyclers and strengthen their voice to enable them to more effectively contribute to public policy making and thus diminish urban poverty and improve environmental quality. The program also conducts activities supporting necessary structural changes, through the design of adequate policies and legislation.

There will be increased capacity of the partner institutions to implement training programs for government agents, leaders from the informal recycling sector and the wider community on technical aspects of the collection, separation and transformation of recyclables, health and risk factors, participative resource management, gender awareness and inclusion, small business and cooperative development and organization, micro-credit, group dynamics and participatory methodologies. The program further helps increase responsible consumption and reduce the generation of waste.


Implementation of Activities


Capacity Building

This is an essential step towards the success of participatory management. Capacity development is hands-on and integrated, involving members of the Management Council (MC) in the planning, decision-making, and implementation of the project. Capacity building has helped create a better understanding of the role of the Management Council and of the objectives of the project. Capacity amongst MC members has been enhanced, enabling them to participate in decision-making at the project level.

Capacity building activities take place with individual recyclers throughout the recycling associations and co-operatives. The aim is to enhance their knowledge of waste management processes and help them to voice their concerns, so as to reduce stigmatization and vulnerability. Specific activities include:

  • Participatory video workshops with recyclers
  • Financial management workshops with co-operatives
  • Capacity building for livelihood diversification through pilot projects, such as the collection of organic (food) waste
  • Information technology skills workshops to help recyclers become more autonomous in the digital world and use computers for co-op administration and collective commercialization
  • Participatory technology development, such as especially designed bicycles and tent-trailers developed in collaboration with Tony’s Trailers
  • Participatory research with informal recyclers, including participatory video (PV) – theme- and storyboard development, conducting and filming interviews, filming and editing

Strengthening networks through dialogue with recyclers’ groups

Activities to facilitate dialogue with organized groups of recyclers progressed significantly since 2006 and, particularly in 2009 with the new University Agreement between UVic and USP in place, due to strong partnerships with the groups and a dedicated experienced field team. Early dialogues revealed that the recyclers generally rely on middlemen who buy recyclable material in small quantities, and sell it on in large quantities. If the recyclers were to sell directly to industry, they could earn a higher price for their materials. However, this is often not possible, since they then would become responsible for compacting and packaging the material, transporting it to the buyer, legally registering their groups, and providing the minimum quantity demanded by the buyer.

To resolve these dilemmas, many groups are beginning to register as co-operatives or associations. The encouragement and organization of collective sales among a network of groups is therefore a major part of the project’s focus. This involves two or more groups combining their materials to ensure that they meet the minimum demands of the buyers. This requires a good financial system in place and clear communication, aspects that are being strengthened and supported through meetings and workshops with recyclers groups.

A second challenge faced by recyclers is the fact that payments take longer when the group sells directly to the industry, rather than to middlemen. Therefore, another project priority has been the creation of a project micro-credit fund, which is now managed by a commission of representatives from the recyclers’ groups. The fund disperses loans to help recyclers cover the initial cost of selling directly to industry.

Dialogue has also been stimulated amongst recyclers, such as the realization of meetings between recyclers from São Paulo (ABCD region) and from Rio de Janeiro (municipalities of Mesquita and Duque de Caxias). A group dynamic was established that provided each recycler with the opportunity to talk about their respective recycling group, and to discuss the main difficulties faced by their groups and how they overcome such difficulties.

“Organization of collective sales of recyclables allowed us to double the value of some of our materials, increasing workers’ earnings. The creation of micro-credit fund allowed groups to borrow money, and purchase equipment necessary to improve the processing of materials.”
Mônica Silva, Vila Popular Recyclers’ Group, and Luiza Honorato, Coopercose Cooperatives, São Paulo

Dialogue with governments to inform public policy

In Ribeirão Pires, Santo André and Diadema, the project Directing Committee and the field team arranged meetings and visits with representatives from the municipal governments. In São Paulo, the focus has been upon building relationships with some of the regional offices (Sub-prefeituras). Seminars on  participatory research methodologies were organized in partnership with municipal governments. Other activities developed in partnership with specific municipal governments include:

  • Support for the Pacto Ambiental Recyclers’ Association in Diadema
  • Joint planning with the Diadema municipal government for the Diadema recycling reference centre
  • Elaboration of new projects to tackle specific needs in each of the municipalities


Advocacy is a central component to the PSWM project, and activities and events are continuously being conducted, such as presentations, round-table discussions, and community outreach through information dissemination. For example, students and administrative staff from the project team organized the Environment Week activities at FSA (Santo André Foundation University Centre).  This activity helped raise the project profile at the FSA and brought information about adding value to recyclable materials to the attention of the FSA academic community.  Furthermore, two key events stand out in recent advocacy efforts: the first international recyclers conference, held in Bogotá, Colombia, in February 2008; and, the CUExpo, held at University of Victoria, Canada, in May 2008. Recyclers from the PSWM project in Brazil participated at both events (see below).

First international recyclers conference, Bogotá, Colombia – February 2008

The conference was organized by an international committee of organizations from the recyclers in India (KKPKP), Latin America (Network of Recycling Workers), the Global Network of Informal Recyclers, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), as well as researchers from different countries. 290 recyclers participated in the conference, bringing experiences from 43 countries, including South Africa, Cameroon, India, Nepal, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Turkey and several countries in Latin America. In addition approximately 50 experts in waste management were also present, representing universities, recycling businesses, and international aid organizations.

Bringing together movements from different parts of the word is a first step towards creating a global network of formal and informal recyclers. The principal objective was to strengthen the organization and global connection of informal and organized recyclers (especially women), so as to make their environmental and solid waste management contribution more visible. The major topics debated at the conference were:

  • The recycling production chain and the role of informal recyclers
  • Public policies for inclusive and integrated solid waste management
  • Risks of privatization for the work of informal recyclers;
  • International agreements (e.g. the Kyoto Protocol and carbon credits).

The guiding theme during the recyclers’ conference was: El catador organizado jamas sera pisado. Lack of organization is one of the strongest indicators for poverty. Through organization, the individual is transformed into a social actor and has the capacity to act. Patrick Mwanzia of Kenya sees two key obstacles: “Firstly, waste pickers in Kenya lack exposure to experiences elsewhere. And secondly they need facilitation: at the moment, they have no power to communicate, and to have someone to bring them together is rare. So my first role when I go back is [to create a] local network of waste pickers”.

Two central themes emerged. First, the widespread harassment recyclers suffer and the stigma they carry for dealing with waste; and second, the realization that with organization these situations can be surmounted.

CUExpo, University of Victoria, Canada – May 2008

Thanks to the Office of Community-based Research at the University of Victoria and the funding provided by IDRC, the PSWM project was able to bring one recycler from Brazil to participate in the CUExpo (Community Exposition). The PSWM participating recyclers in Brazil selected Luzia Honorato to travel to Canada and represent their cause. Luzia received the largest number of votes among recyclers due to the high level of trust she received from the rest of the recyclers.

The Community-Based Research Laboratory organized two sessions during this conference. The first session was a round table to discuss the severe discrimination suffered by recyclers, despite their environmental and social contributions. Various stakeholders involved in waste management were invited to participate in the debate, including recyclers (Binners) from Victoria. Participants made a brief statement about their experiences with social exclusion. This theme was selected as a top priority that had emerged during the first international recyclers conference in Bogotá, Colombia, where the recyclers and technicians unanimously agreed that discrimination from police, the local government, and the public in general was the most serious problem they face and that improved organization of recyclers is the most efficient way to tackle this issue. The second event focused on the individual experience of the recyclers with presentations from Luzia and Beatle-Juice (a local recycler) showcasing their respective situations in São Paulo, Brazil and Victoria, Canada. The Story Telling session entitled: “Waste no waste: Resource recovery experiences from the street” introduced a North and South perspective on community recycling strategies that promote poverty alleviation and stimulate social inclusion.  The discussion also brought the difficulties between community outreach and university administration to the attention of the public, highlighting the important task of capacity building within educational institutions.

Cross-Cutting topics

Research and academic training

Significant progress was made with a focus on research with recyclers. During 2006 – 2007, conferences were held in Vancouver and Mendoza to address participatory action research and the challenges in informal resource recovery. A seminar was held in March 2007 to discuss the lessons learned through participation in university-based community outreach projects.

Research capacity has been enhanced at the universities in São Paulo and Victoria, for example, with an MA student project to establish a computer system for the recyclers to be able to manage the sales of their materials. Meanwhile, a global database on solid waste management is also under construction at the Community-based Research Laboratory (CBRL) at the University of Victoria, involving the exchange student from Brazil. Post-graduate research is also being carried out in São Paulo to investigate 1.) the feasibility of integrated organic waste management (collecting food waste on a door-to-door basis, redirected into composting for the production of fertilizer for community gardens), 2.) the dynamics of gender disparities in organized recycling and 3.) environmental education and organized recycling. Two PhD students also contribute to research activities, focusing on participatory video and the discourse that perpetuates stigmatization of recyclers.

 Project Management

Establishing participatory management structures has been a priority from the outset of the project, in order to ensure the long-term success of all project activities. Participatory and adaptive management have helped the project to respond to opportunities and challenges that arise, and has ensured that project activities are relevant to the needs and interests of recyclers groups. This participatory and reflexive management model has recently been strengthened by the signing of a new partnership agreement between the University of Victoria in Canada and the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) in Brazil.


PSWM initiatives in Brazil


In Brazil, the success of the PSWM project has led to other initiatives relating to sustainable and inclusive waste management. These projects include partnerships with other organizations and are supported by a variety of funding agencies, and therefore do not fit under the auspices of the PSWM project. Explore the links below to find out more.

“There is a strong network only if the groups are strong”: A Net Income Generating Project by Collectors within the ABC region

The Net Income Generating Project by ABC Collectors was designed as a job training and coordination programme for groups of selective collection in the Greater ABC region, sponsored by Petrobras. This initiative is part of a series of efforts that have been constructed since 2000, in partnership with various institutions and groups of recyclers and garbage collectors. The initiative furthers empowering groups, improves working conditions and income, and creates formal recognition of this working class in public policy and solid waste collection. Read the full report (in Portuguese) here!

Cooperative recycling: equity, empowerment and the reinscription of gendered difference (Neil J. Nunn)

This study is about the relationship between gendered bodies and the spaces of a group of worker’s recycling cooperatives in the ABC region of São Paulo, Brazil. More specifically this study looks at the progress that is taking place within these spaces towards deconstructing the meaning attached to the categories of male and female and the power configurations entwined with these categories. The central question of this study is: in what ways has the recycling cooperative allowed for women to inspire personal and social change and to have the power to influence the institutions that affect their lives? We argue that the recycling cooperatives involved with this research are unique spaces where individuals who have traditionally lacked access to power are granted the opportunities to empower themselves.

Catadores Participatory Video Workshop

The goal of this project is to build the capacity of 20 recyclers participating in the PSWM project in the metropolitan region of São Paulo in multi-media technology. During a one-week workshop, in April 2008, the recyclers were trained in video technology, story board development, and post-production media as a strategy to improve community networking opportunities, stimulate awareness and education of recycling programs. The process itself was aimed to contribute to their personal empowerment and growth. During three days, four groups of recyclers from different cities and cooperatives worked together in videotaping their own story. Click here to read more.

Video for Empowerment

Video interviews were used to document the experiences and perspectives of leaders from participating recycling cooperatives to assist in the evaluation of capacity building and empowerment goals for the Participatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM) project (CIDA-AUCC). The objective of this video project, funded by the Latin-American and Caribbean Research Exchange Grant(LACREG) of Canada, was to initiate an exchange between knowledge and practice of integrated waste management strategies, participatory methodologies for community development and multi-media exploration for empowerment and participation. Click here to more.

Rede Gerando Renda

The Rede Gerando Renda project (Network Generating Income), an initiative of PSWM project members and Instituto Gea, has received funding from Petrobras Ambiental to strengthen collective commercialization and networking in the region. Some of this funding has gone towards acquiring a new truck to transport materials within the groups to facilitate the selective collection for the cooperatives. The truck has improved the capacity of the cooperative members to transport more materials and network. Collective commercialization enables the cooperatives to sell their materials together and increase their income. Click here to read more.

The Collection and Re-use of Organic Waste for Urban Agriculture

As an extension of the PSWM project, research is being carried out in Diadema (a peripheral city in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, Brazil) regarding the potential for collecting organic waste on a door-to-door basis. The waste is processed at a nearby community garden, where it is used as compost. The products from the garden are distributed among the waste collectors, gardeners, and participants in the local community. In 2008, a pilot project was carried out to explore the viability of such a system.Click here to read more.

Microcredit Fund

In August 2006, a workshop on collective commercialization, supported by the PSWM project and attended by 25 recycling group leaders, identified microcredit as a strategy to resolve the problem of delays in collective commercialization. The regular availability of working capital (capital de giro), provided through the microcredit programme, removes the need for immediate payment, thereby reducing dependency upon atravessadores. The microcredit fund can also help to formalize and build the capacity of catadoresgroups. Click here to read more.


Initiatives in Canada


The community-based research laboratory (CBRL), housed at the University of Victoria, undertakes many other initiatives in Canada relating to sustainable and inclusive waste management, in addition to the PSWM project. Explore the links below to find out more.

Binning for Resources: Perspectives from Vancouver’s Waste Management Trap-line

This research project explored informal recycling in Vancouver, BC. In Vancouver, informal recycling is practiced for a variety of socio-economic reasons and is known as “binning”. The project explored the strategies explored by binners and with the local United We Can bottle depot to overcome social exclusion and to enhance their livelihood options. The participatory nature of the project provided a voice for the recyclers and the outcomes contributed to an improved framework for community-based recycling opertions. Click here to read on…

The Binning Community in Victoria: a participatory exploration for livelihood enhancement

This project explores the socio-economic profile and livelihood determinants of recyclers (locally as ‘binners’) in Victoria, BC using participatory methods including focus group discussions, a census, in-depth interviews, and community mapping, in order to assist in the design of inclusive public policy making. Results reveal that binning is a common activity among homeless individuals in Victoria, and an important strategy for income generation. Despite their efforts in providing a valuable contribution to society through waste recovery, their presence remains undervalued often facing harassment, and severe occupational health risks. Despite some community support for binning activities (such as cart donations, partnerships with business or households, etc.) there is no formal organization to strengthen the capacity of binners to improve their livelihood conditions. Government, industry and community support is needed to address the precarious working and living conditions of this population. Click here to read on…

MOTHERS project, Victoria, BC

The MOTHERS project aims to empower and improve the quality of life of binners by providing 4 specially-designed bicycles and tent-trailers that will facilitate income generation opportunities.  Tony’s Trailers has already made a few custom-designed bicycles available to a number of homeless people in Victoria, many of who now use them to generate income through binning. Each bicycle includes a trailer that converts into one-person tent that allows discrete, mobile shelter from the elements. Preliminary responses from those currently using these trailers confirm a significant improvement to the overall health, income and quality of their lives.Click here to read on…

Waste Management in the Gulf Islands

Community-based organizations can contribute to waste management in a variety of manners by: providing a high quality of service; having increased stakeholder control; lower operating costs of waste management; and greater responsiveness to the community’s needs. In an attempt to determine the role of community-based organizations in sustainable waste management, this study examined (a) political and economic partnerships as co-management arrangements (b) citizen engagement and participation in resource recovery (c) environmental benefits and (d) social benefits of community-based resource recovery. This study focused particularly on sustainable management of waste in small island communities and highlighted two case studies of established community-based resource recovery operations – Mayne Island Recycling Society and Hornby Island Recycling Depot – in the Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada. Click here to read on…

Global Waste Database

The purpose of this initiative is to create an interdisciplinary, collaborative global forum for addressing the increasing complexity and urgency of waste management at the local level. It will facilitate research and comparative analysis, stimulate knowledge exchange and transfer, and provide the opportunity to build academic and institutional partnerships within Canada and internationally with the rest of the world. Click here to read on…

Street Stories Research Project

There is a need for mechanisms that respectfully and meaningfully engage people who may have fewer opportunities to participate in decision-making processes.  In this project, we seek to strengthen the voice of those who are homelessness in identifying and evaluating solutions to homelessness and provide new insights for ending homelessness. The objectives are: to record and document the perspectives of the Victoria street community; to strengthen the capacity of the street community in documenting, analyzing and representing the voice of those experiencing homelessness; to provide insights and recommendations to policy makers on solutions to ending homelessness. Click here to read on…

Lunch & Learn with Jutta Gutberlet: David Suzuki Foundation