Although the kinds of work waste pickers do differs across countries, some basic categories exist. These include:
- 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.
- Street waste pickers reclaim recyclables from mixed waste disposed in garbage bags and bins on streets or in dumpsters; some have arrangements with commercial and/or office buildings and may have access to previously segregated material.
- Doorstep waste pickers collect recyclables as part of door-to-door selective waste collection schemes run by municipalities 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sorters select and sort recyclables by type from conveyor belts or other devices.
- Handlers/processors of organic wastes work in compost plants or biogas plants; they have become part of zero waste models.
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).
- 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.
- Organized waste pickers who work through cooperatives and associations.
- 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.