Co-ops help Brazilian waste pickers build climate resilience, study shows

Co-op workers were able to take preventive action against impact of extreme weather, a report from Wiego finds

A report on the impact of climate change on Brazilian waste pickers has found that workers belonging to co-ops are more likely to take preventative measures against extreme weather events.

The study, conducted by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (Wiego), looked at the impact of climate change on waste pickers in Brazil, and how they are adapting to it.

Climate change was found to be an important issue to 98% of waste pickers interviewed, with heatwaves, droughts and floods reported as impacting their health and work. 

91% of interviewees reported experiencing one or more climate change-related events in the past year, including 85% reporting experiencing abnormal heat or heat waves and 39% exposed to flash flooding. 

Non-organised waste pickers reported more severe impacts from these events than those who were part of co-operatives and other associations – except in the case of infectious disease, reported to be more impactful on organised workers.

The study also looked at waste pickers’ coping and adaptation strategies. Collective responses to climate change tended to take a preventive approach, such as coordinating processes to store waste and materials either in co-operatives or on the streets.

A need for more information for waste pickers on climate change and adaptation strategies was highlighted in the report, as well as official acknowledgement of waste pickers’ contributions to reducing greenhouse emissions.

Dialogue among waste pickers, local and national government and the private sector also needs to be strengthened, says the report, with co-ops put forward as “central to articulating waste pickers’ needs and building government and non-government partnerships”. 

The study also makes a number of recommendations for governments to support waste pickers in building their resilience against the effects of climate change, including: investment in early warning systems, climate-sensitive workplace infrastructure and equipment, the provision of social protections such as emergency cash and food transfers. 

Co-ops and other waste picker networks were found to play a key role in facilitating access to information for waste pickers and it was recommended that they should be a partner in such initiatives. 

A male waste picker from Bahia said:  “City governments should sign contracts with the co-operatives to establish solid waste collection and pay waste pickers for service provision, including for non-organised waste pickers. With solid waste collection, we are reducing public spending given how there is a decrease in waste sent to landfills.”