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A government program hosts tramps in cooperatives. Result? Cleaner cities and less poverty.
The fight against poverty and the environmental battles go hand in hand. This is demonstrated by the ambitious program EcoCitizen, developed in Brazil to regulate and give economic help to more than 200,000 catadores (unauthorized waste collectors).
Up till today, those who rummage in the rubbish to find something to reuse and resell, have been considered “damned”. Catadores are often exploited by corporal systems, which rent them trucks in order to cheat them when weighing and buying what they have collected.
The EcoCitizen program allowed members to increase their revenues well above the minimum wage, the equivalent of 199 dollars a month. With the new system, on average, the collectors earn about 400 dollars a month, with peaks of 800 dollars. While catadores are paid for their individual work, cooperatives collect differentiated waste and sell it all to the recycling industry, with a stronger negotiating power on the price to be agreed.
Curitiba, a city of nearly 2 million inhabitants, is the program’s spearhead. Thanks to the EcoCitizen project, the percentage of separated collection has increased from 15% in 2013 to 70%.
There, thanks to investments of more than 6.5 million dollars by the Development Bank of Brazil, EcoCitizen has expanded from 4 cooperatives for the storage of recyclable materials in 2007 to 13 in 2012, up to 19 today. Furthermore, by the end of the year, two more will be opened and in a few years time it’s expect they’ll be 26 in all.
More than 600 catadores had access to modern storage facilities, a uniform and right equipment for their work. Above all, they acquired social and working dignity. Working for cooperatives, collectors are independent, operating as small businessmen providing a service in separating paper, plastic, glass, aluminium and other materials. The result? Better working conditions and a cleaner city.
There’s still much more work to do. In Brazil there are millions of catadores who make their living by collecting and selecting waste. In some cities, these invisible “circular economy operators” are the only form of urban collection, at zero cost (or almost). Even if they provide a useful service to the community, they have a very bad image and are seen as people who litter the streets, blocking traffic with their trolleys. They often live in desperate conditions: during the day, they rummage through piles of rubbish in streets and landfills, at night they sleep in the middle of waste stored nearby or even in their homes.