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Abstract

Selective garbage collection and separation involves many of the urban poor. For them solid waste means resources and recycling becomes a survival strategy. In Brazil, almost a million recyclers perform the service of collecting, separating and commercializing recyclable material. Their work is considered mostly informal and is subject to health risks, accidents and exploitation. Some recyclers are organized in cooperatives, associations or social enterprises. These collective forms of organization provide important spaces for social inclusion and human development, by promoting meaningful work, increasing the workers’ self-esteem and improving their living and working conditions. Resource recovery and recycling also generate net carbon credits, which need to be redirected towards this sector. The recent introduction of waste to energy technology is perceived as a threat to the recyclers’ livelihoods. Incineration does not generate income, produces environmental contamination and competes with other forms of waste management. Action oriented, participatory research with recycling groups in Brazil supports the argument that organized recycling generates social, economic and environmental benefits and radically addresses poverty reduction. Remunerating the recyclers for their service and considering the environmental gains of their work (Clean Development Mechanism) tackles the Millennium Development Goal of poverty alleviation. Finally, participatory waste management has an important role to play in promoting necessary drastic changes towards a closed looped economies and more sustainable communities on a global scale.