Tracking Trash with Waste Pickers in Brazil
• DIETMAR OFFENHUBER and DAVID LEE are PhD students in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and conduct research at the Senseable City Lab at MIT.
Researchers and cooperative members fill in details on the map of a manual picker’s walking route. A public workshop at the end of the experiment allowed the whole cooperative and members of the community to respond to and augment the collected geographic data. Photo by David Lee.
As a result of ongoing urbanization, many cities face challenges providing basic infrastructure such as waste and recycling collection for their residents. In many places, these services are provided by a growing informal sector. In Brazil, self-organized cooperatives of catadores, or informal recyclers, have a long history. Today, they are organized countrywide in over 500 cooperatives totaling 60,000 members. These cooperatives form a national movement that helps shape public waste policies. In São Paulo, catadores collect 90% of recoverable materials, and constitute an essential recycling infrastructure for the city.