Home Institution

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Publication Date

Fall 2005

Program Name

Brazil: Culture, Development, and Social Justice


Catadore de lixo is a general term used by Brazilians to refer to those people who work with garbage. It encompasses those who work (and often live) in open landfills and scavenge for salvageable goods to consume, use, or sell; those who work in the street collecting garbage; those who collect only recyclables; and those who work within associations, companies, or cooperatives that sort, sell, and/or recycle refuse. Such a cooperative and the catadores who comprise is the focus of my research.

My objective for spending three weeks in the homes and community of the catadoras de lixo was to see how they define, experience, and satisfy their needs. During the period I was conducting my field research, the usina de triagem (the facility in which mixed trash is sorted into its recyclable components) where the catadores work in a cooperative had been closed for almost two months because of a combination of political and technical problems. Because of this closure, the catadoras were not receiving any income. In conversations with them, it became evident that the reopening of the usina was at the top of their priority list. They defined their needs very narrowly, with a unified emphasis on the need for the recyclable sorting facility where they were all employed to re-open and function so that they might earn an income, however meager. This paper explores why this need is so unanimously prioritized by the community. In doing so, it illuminates the reality of the some of the most marginalized citizens of one of the most marginalized regions of the developing world and documents an employment crisis which is devastating their lives but which is virtually invisible to anyone from outside the catadore community. It discusses and describes the physical community, the people who are the catadores de lixo, the nature of their work, the history of their struggle for income, the politics at the heart of their crisis, how the catadores experienced and talked about the crisis, and what this reveals about their culture and experience of needs.


Inequality and Stratification | Social Welfare


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