Photo: Jorge VelázquezPhoto: Jorge VelázquezPhoto: Jorge Velázquez


In developing countries millions of waste pickers take to the streets every day to collect recyclable materials to provide for their families. Waste pickers are key figures in the recycling process throughout Latin America. Despite lacking organizational structure, formal recognition and legal rights, their determination and unions’ empowerment is helping change their situation for the better.

Despite their valuable contributions to the environment and the economy, this vulnerable group of workers lives in social, political and economic exclusion. However, the growing global awareness of environmental limitations has highlighted the importance of waste management in the public agenda. While it is not feasible to continue increasing the amount of waste and associated environmental problems, it has been acknowledged that recyclable wastes are raw materials that reduce economic and environmental costs without altering the quality of products.

Avina identifies opportunity

For the past eight years, Avina has invested in allies working in the field and has identified sustainable and replicable solutions for improving the living conditions of the two million waste pickers in Latin America. There is growing awareness and interest surrounding this topic at the regional, national and international levels.


Avina and its allies’ strategy for action

To encourage the reorganization of the recycling industry in order to generate decent and productive jobs for waste pickers, while at the same time maximizing environmental and social benefits through a democratic and equitable interaction among the public sector, the industry and waste pickers. Avina’s contribution to this strategy focuses primarily on:

Strengthening recycling organizations.

Expanding its networks and fostering national and international connections.

Integrating waste pickers into the value chain of the recycling industry.

Including waste pickers in municipal waste management systems.

Encouraging participation of waste pickers in new green markets. Promoting inclusive public policies.

“Avina has helped us understand how companies perceive us and the work that we do. They have also provided us with the means to participate in their meetings, and discuss our future as allies.” -Luiz Henrique da Silva, recycler, MNCR – Brazil


 A platform of 230 allies is involved in recycling in Latin America, North America and Europe. The allies include recycling organizations, civil society organizations, technical experts, and representatives of public, private and academic sectors.  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has co-invested USD 5 million over five years for an initiative in Latin America and the

Caribbean.   Coca-Cola Foundation, Inter-American Development Bank, Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Combate à Pobreza in Brazil, the Inter-ecclesiastic Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO): co-investment of USD 7.9 million over a period of four years for the “Cata Ação” Program.


The challenges include improving social and economic organization as well as administrative skills and competencies of waste pickers’ groups and networks, promoting technological innovation in the industry, and establishing the necessary links for this and other relevant issues, such as climate change.


Some achievements with our allies


Recycling Law in Peru

With the leadership of Avina, ally Albina Ruiz, in alliance with the National Movement of Recyclers, local recycling associations, politicians and business people, pushed the government of Peru to enact Law 29419 in October 2009, which recognizes the work of waste pickers, offers them formal status, and integrates them in the country’s solid waste management systems.

“The Act opened up pathways towards hope. With it, recyclers in Peru are no longer invisible, they will no longer go unnoticed, and they become an influential and recognized industry.” -Albina Ruiz, CEO of Ciudad Sostenible
This law makes Peru the first Latin American country to enact legislation regulating the activities of urban recyclers. Avina provided support in drafting the law.

Launch of the “Cata Ação” Program

More than 3,000 people, including 1,500 waste pickers from several countries and Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva ―then president of Brazil, convened in 2009 at a grand conference in São Paulo, Brazil. Brazil’s National Movement of Recyclable Material Collectors (MNCR) and the Latin American Network of Waste Pickers organized the event with financial support from Avina. It brought together business people, government officials and waste pickers. During the meeting, Avina signed an agreement of joint

support for the “Cata-Ação/Socioeconomic Integration of Waste Pickers” project to be implemented in five Brazilian cities. Avina is responsible for the program’s national coordination. The objective is to create a model for the economic integration of waste pickers through professional training and social integration. At the event Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development created a USD 125 million line of credit for waste pickers and their cooperatives.

Recycling and Climate Change

As a result of Avina’s brokering with strategic stakeholders to achieve the inclusion of recyclers, a global alliance has been established to promote recycling as a key activity in the reduction of green-house effect gases. This alliance, set out in international agreements, includes the Latin American Network of Recyclers, Indian groups of recyclers and non-governmental organizations such as Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), and Global Alliance.

“We grass-roots recyclers are invisiblized entrepreneurs, progressing in the struggle against climate change although our work is one of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gases.” -Exequiel Estay, Secretary, Recycling Movement of Chile (Movimiento Nacional de Recicladores de Chile, or MNRCH) and member of the Communications Secretariat of the Latin American Network of Recyclers

Datos Claves

  1. About 15 million people, approximately 1% of the urban population in developing countries, make a living collecting waste.

  2. Brazil and Colombia recognize waste collection as valuable labor, worthy of government support.

  3. In recent years, in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay, urban waste picking cooperatives have grown and formed national associations of waste pickers.

  4. In Brazil, 500 waste pickers’ cooperatives unite about 60,000 people.

  5. In Latin America the recycler’s movement strengthens as waste pickers develop links with peer organizations in Africa and Asia.

  6. Recyclable materials are cheaper than raw materials and require less energy for conversion, reducing the cost of industrial production.

  7. In Mexico, the waste paper collected by waste pickers is seven times cheaper than imported wood pulp.

    Source: Martin Medina. "The Informal Recycling Industry in Developing Countries-Organizing Recyclers to Enhance Their Impact.” Note GridLines not. 44, October 2008.