Basic Categories of Waste Pickers

Although the kinds of work waste pickers do differs across countries, some basic categories exist. These include:

On route/truck waste pickers icon

On route/truck waste pickers

Refers to formal collection crews who segregate recyclables from household waste as a supplement to their salaries.

The term can also designate informal pickers who have permission to collect materials alongside collection crews.

Dump/landfill waste pickers icon

Dump/landfill waste pickers

Reclaim and sell recyclables and gather organic matter--usually for feeding  livestock at disposal sites; may   live on the disposal site in shacks or nearby.

Doorstep waste pickers icon

Doorstep waste pickers

Collect recyclables as part of municipal segregation@source run in partnership with membership-based organizations of waste pickers.

Cooperatives with formal or informal agreements with commercial/office buildings may have members engaged in the collection of large quantities of materials by trucks or other vehicles.

Itinerant buyers icon

Itinerant buyers

Collect recyclables from households/businesses in exchange for payment or barter. They generally work on fixed routes and use pushcarts or other collection vehicles.

Handlers/processors of organic wastes icon

Handlers/processors of organic wastes

Work in compost plants or biogas plants; they have become part of zero waste models.

Sorters icon


Select and sort recyclables by type from conveyor belts or other devices.

Street waste pickers icon

Street waste pickers

Reclaim recyclables from mixed waste disposed in garbage bags and bins on streets or in dumpsters; some have arrangements with household residencies, commercial and/or office buildings and may haveaccess to previously segregated material.

Elaborado por Sonia Dias. Fuentes: Dias y Samson 2016 y la página web de WIEGO.

Waste pickers may also be categorized by their involvement with organizations, municipalities or industries. For example, in Brazil, waste pickers once worked mainly on their own on streets and in dumpsites. However, with developments in the last decades, there are now three types of waste pickers identified in Brazil (Crivellari, Dias and Pena 2008).

  1. The unorganized or autonomous waste picker who makes a living picking or buying recyclable materials on the streets or in waste dumps and selling it to junk shops. These workers are not connected to waste pickers associations or cooperatives, although they may sometimes sell the collected materials to these associations.
  2. Organized waste pickers who work through cooperatives and associations.
  3. The waste picker with a contract who works mainly in junk yards or in the metallurgic industrial sector, but also in the public municipal sector or in associations and cooperatives.

In Brazil a worker with a Carterira de trabalho (CT) is covered by a body of labour laws (Consolidacao das Leis do Trabalho) containing rules for fair labour relations including a minimum wage, work hours, 30 days of vacation per year, entitlement to insurance, retirement pay, six months unemployment wages and other rights. Workers are in formal jobs and can register formal employment for life.

Occupational group