How the Brazilian Justice System is Trying to Improve the Working Conditions of Recyclable Collectors

Recyclable collectors, also known as catadores de reciclagem, are workers who roam the streets of Brazilian cities, collecting various materials for recycling. They play a vital role in the society, as they help reduce waste and environmental impact. However, they often face poverty, exclusion, and precarious working conditions.

The Challenges of Recyclable Collectors

According to Paulo Sergio João, a lawyer and professor of labor law at PUC-SP, recyclable collectors are among the most vulnerable and marginalized workers in Brazil. They work long hours, under harsh weather conditions, and with little or no protection. They also have to deal with traffic, hostility, and discrimination from drivers and pedestrians.

Moreover, they receive very low income for their labor. João estimates that a full cart of recyclable materials can earn them around R$ 15,00 (about US$ 2.80) per day. The price of the materials can also vary depending on the season and the demand. Sometimes, the collectors do not even own their carts, but borrow or rent them from the buyers, who can impose exclusivity and exploitation.

Another challenge is the lack of recognition and appreciation for their work. Despite contributing to the environmental and social well-being of the society, recyclable collectors are often ignored or stigmatized. They are not seen as workers, but as beggars, scavengers, or nuisances.

The Opportunities of Recyclable Collectors

Despite the difficulties, recyclable collectors also have some opportunities to improve their situation and empower themselves. One of them is the creation of cooperatives, which aim to organize and support the collectors, giving them more value and meaning to their profession. Cooperatives can offer better prices, equipment, training, and social benefits to their members, as well as foster solidarity and cooperation among them.

Another opportunity is the use of technology, which can help the collectors to connect with potential clients, optimize their routes, and access information and services. For example, Mundano, an activist and artist, created the Cataki app, which allows users to find and contact recyclable collectors near their location, and request them to pick up their materials. Mundano also founded the Pimp My Carroça project, which seeks to promote the visibility and dignity of the collectors, by painting and decorating their carts, and providing them with health and safety kits.

The Initiatives of the Justice System

In addition to these grassroots initiatives, the justice system is also taking steps to improve the working conditions and rights of recyclable collectors. In December 2023, the Superior Labor Court announced the creation of a group to propose institutional projects aimed at fostering decent work for recyclable collectors. The group will also promote the valorization of the workers, the respect for diversity, and the health and safety of the work environment.

According to João, this initiative is commendable and hopeful, as it shows the concern and commitment of the justice system to address the social and economic issues that affect recyclable collectors. He hopes that the group will be able to propose concrete and effective measures that will improve the quality of life and work of these workers, who deserve recognition and respect for their valuable contribution to the society.


Recyclable collectors are workers who perform a crucial function for the society, but face many challenges and hardships. However, they also have opportunities and initiatives that can help them to overcome their difficulties and empower themselves. The justice system is also taking action to improve their working conditions and rights, and to promote their dignity and value. By supporting and appreciating these workers, we can also contribute to a more sustainable, inclusive, and fair society.