Laws & Policies Beneficial to Waste Pickers

Waste Picker Conference Bogota 2008


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. In Brazil, 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; for instance, only 11 per cent of the members of the Cataunidos network of nine cooperatives pay the national pension scheme (FMLC 20071 ). 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.

Visit the Inclusive Cities website for an Overview of the Legal Framework for Social Inclusion in Solid Waste Management in Brazil.

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 20082).

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 (April 2009) ruled in favor of waste pickers by granting them customary rights to access, sort and recycle reclaimable materials.


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 Pune, waste pickers have been authorized to provide doorstep waste collection by the municipal government, which has also endorsed identity cards for waste pickers, helping them to create an identity as workers and thus increasing their self-esteem.

Also, opportunities for waste pickers to help corporations deal with post-consumer waste are offering a niche for informal workers in Mumbai and other cities in India. Waste pickers are involved with companies such as Tetra Pak in the recovery of paper and plastic-aluminium into separate commodities, and with Coca Cola for shredding PET units.


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 20053).

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, such as:

  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.
2 Dias, Sonia Maria and Fábio C. G. Alves. 2008. Study prepared for GTZ´s sector project “Promotion of Concepts for Pro-Poor and Environmentally Friendly Closed-Loop Approaches in Solid Waste Management” (unpublished).
3 Chintan. 2005. “Informal-Formal – Creating Opportunities for the Informal Waste Recycling Sector in Asia.” Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, Delhi, 2005.