Waste Pickers in Brazil Receive Payment for Environmental Services

by Sonia Dias, WIEGO’s Waste Specialist/Visiting Professor UFMG, Brazil

Brazil has been in the forefront of progressive legislation and public policies geared to the integration of its informal recyclers. In the last 12-15 years, Brazil has seen the enactment of laws supporting the social inclusion of these workers and the implementation of public policies designed for cooperatives and associations of informal collectors of recyclables, known as catadores.

For years, Brazilian movement of catadores (the MNCR) had been arguing to receive compensation for the urban services they provide in waste management. These services include collection of recyclables and scrap, which benefits the environment in a number of ways: through extending the life span of sanitary landfills (through diversion of recyclables); contributing to cities’ cleanliness; and reducing pollution.
The MNCR has used these benefits as a major strategy to gain recognition for waste pickers.

In 2010, in its effort to contribute to the design of solid waste policies that concomitantly address social and environmental dimensions, the Brazilian Institute for Applied Economics (IPEA) drafted a policy document regarding the need to have a methodology to calculate catadores’ contributions and, as a result, their payment for their environmental services. The policy reasoned that the average income waste pickers receive is not adequate in relation to the service they provide to the environment. The IPEA proposed three main instruments to guide payment for environmental services: productivity payment; graduated compensatory additions; and a cooperative fund. WIEGO recently published a summary of the IPEA’s policy document.

Recent Developments

Until recently, payment for environmental services as per the policy had not been implemented, though soon after WIEGO'S briefing note was published, a major development occurred: the state of Minas Gerais became the first to implement a scheme for payment of environmental services. Although the State Parliament approved a law in November 2011 whereby waste pickers who belong to cooperatives are allowed to receive a monetary incentive called bolsa Reciclagem (recycling bonus), the scheme was only implemented in December 2012.

The law establishes a monetary incentive paid by the state government to waste pickers who are members of cooperatives. The first law approved in the country that authorizes the use of public resources to compensate waste pickers for their work on an ongoing basis, the law aims to improve recycling rates, to encourage the reintroduction of raw materials into the industrial circuit, and to compensate the catadores for environmental services rendered. This is also a redistributive mechanism—informal waste workers are at the lowest end of the recycling chain.

According to the law, the amount of money each cooperative will receive and subsequently distribute to its individual waste picker members is defined by the quantity and kind of recyclables collected and sold. The payment is due at the end of a three-month period of work, and cooperatives are entitled to the benefit after proving what has been commercialized and in what quantity. The funds for the payment come from the state treasury. The state government determines the total amount per year reserved for financing, based on its investment priorities and fiscal capacity.

The first payments were made in December 2012, and the innovation was received with great enthusiasm from the waste pickers. Nevertheless, it is important that in the coming years this policy is monitored and evaluated to assess how it affects workers and in which way (if any) it contributes to a fairer recycling chain.