Laws & Policies Beneficial to Waste Pickers

For two decades, development agencies, non-governmental organizations and academics have examined and recorded the contributions of waste pickers. Specialists and activists are now calling for an end to repressive policies on waste picking. They advocate the adoption of inclusive policies focused on legal recognition of waste pickers and their organizations, guaranteed access to waste for waste pickers, integration of waste pickers through their organizations into solid waste management systems, and the strengthening of membership-based waste picker organizations.


Examples of Inclusive Laws and Policies


The National Solid Waste Policy, 2010 recognizes waste pickers cooperatives as service providers and, as a result, institutes a number of mechanisms to support cooperatives and municipalities that integrate informal workers into solid waste systems. Waste pickers have access to the National Health System, as do all Brazilians citizens, though only a minority earn enough to pay for the national pension scheme; a 2007 report of the Municipal Waste and Citizenship Forum (FMLC) found only 11 per cent of the members of the Cataunidos network of nine cooperatives pay the national pension scheme. A Social Welfare Project Law being discussed at the House of Parliament will, if approved, allow waste pickers to contribute 2.3 per cent of their income for the national pension scheme.

In the city of Diadema, the waste pickers’ organizations included in the municipal source-segregation scheme are paid the same amount per tonne of recyclables collected as a private company would be. This was made possible by Law 2336/04, which entitles organizations to be paid by service rendered. Cities like Araxá, Brumadinho, and Londrina pay cooperatives for environmental services. As well, the Brazilian Bank for Economic and Social Development has opened a Social Fund that enables cooperatives to access funds for infrastructure and equipment (Dias and Alves 2008).

In 2007, a modification to the law in Brazil allowed for the hiring of waste pickers’ organizations by municipalities to perform selective waste collection without bid for service provisions. Read a summary of the 2007 Basic Sanitation Law in Brazil.

Corporations and the industry can be supportive of waste pickers. Wal-Mart, for example, has partnered with the CAEC cooperative in the state of Bahia, Brazil. In addition to installing recycling containers at collection points for its customers, it has also invested in the development of the CAEC, giving technical support and improving the cooperative recycling warehouses


The Constitutional Court ruled in favour of waste pickers by granting them customary rights to access, sort and recycle reclaimable materials. WIEGO’s Waste Picker Coordinator for Latin America, Federico Parra, helped the recicladores implement a 2011 Constitutional Court decision giving waste pickers the right to tender for contracts. After a long struggle, Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá (ARB) has been included in the city’s waste management programme.

In March 2013, the Mayor's Office in Bogota launched a payment system for waste pickers in exchange for their services collecting and transporting recyclable materials. Per ton payments will now almost match those paid to private operators. Initially, 790 waste pickers and their families saw their normal earnings—traditionally based solely on what they could sell the recyclables for—double or even triple. About 4,000 (of Bogota’s 14,000) waste pickers registered for the payment programme in the first months.  Read more and see the videos "Chronicles of a Fight for Inclusion."


National policies clearly recognize the informal recycling sector. The National Environment Policy, 2006, states: “Give legal recognition to, and strengthen the informal sector systems of collection and recycling of various materials. In particular enhance their access to institutional finance and relevant technologies.” The National Action Plan for Climate Change, 2009 and other policy documents also refer to waste pickers. Progressive regional legislation has been passed in many states.


In 2010, a law regulating the activity of the waste pickers (Law 29.419) was passed. This law, developed through a participatory process involving representatives of organizations of waste pickers, establishes an important norm regulating waste picking.


The Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of Social Services (CIDSS) is a program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development that provides assistance to informal workers including waste pickers (Chintan 2005).

Impact of Inclusive Laws and Policies

The impact of these examples is important. National and regional laws have established the normative terrain for the activity. In some countries, the laws have created special financial mechanisms for capacity building and for access to funds for infrastructure. Also, waste pickers have been able to secure customary rights to wastes at municipal level by using the law.

These examples have brought positive outcomes:

  1. Earnings: waste pickers who are integrated in door to door collection of waste/recyclables or other services have a stable monthly income.
  2. Welfare: integration in solid waste systems enables improvements in work conditions (uniforms, specially designed carts and buckets for collection of waste, sorting spaces, etc.). In some cases the children of waste pickers can have access to day care or apply for an education scholarship. 
  3. Assets: in some cities waste pickers have access to housing benefits or access to credit for house purchases and/or improvements.

1 The Municipal Waste and Citizenship Forum (FMLC), 2007 internal report.