The Emergence of “Solidarity Recycling” in Brazil, 1980 – 2014

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
CLM.2.04 (Clement House)
Mario Sacomano Neto, Federal University of Sao Carlos - UFSCar, Sao Carlos, Brazil; Federal University of Sao Carlos - UFSCar, Sao Carlos, Brazil
Silvio Eduardo Alvarez Candido, Federal University of Sao Carlos - UFSCar, Sao Carlos, Brazil
Fernanda Verissimo Soulé, Federal University of Sao Carlos (UFSCar), Sao Carlos, Brazil
During the last decades, the rise of environmentalism has been changing the way human societies mean and deal with garbage, favoring the emergence of recycling practices and markets. In the so called developing countries, the configuration of these markets is shaped by unequal social structures, with recycling industries being supplied by informal workers of unprivileged class fractions engaged in the collection recyclable waste (Wilson et al, 2006).

In Brazil, where recycling rates are relatively elevated to several materials (IBGE, 2010), waste collectors have been receiving support, since the 1980’s, from groups of the Catholic Church, NGOs, scholars and governments to get “emancipated” though democratic and collective forms of work organization. As a result, recycling cooperatives diffused and became the basis for the establishment of the municipal recycling programs, being recognized in the National Policy of Solid Waste, approved in 2010, as the legitimate way to organize recycling.

The purpose of the paper is to analyze the cultural and political conditions that enabled the emergence of “solidarity recycling”. The research is mainly qualitative and inspired in the methodological principles of reflexive sociology (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992). The observation and the analysis is guided by the theoretical tools developed by Bourdieu and also from other insights from other approaches like the pragmatic sociology of critique (Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006), Strategic Action Fields (Fligstein and McAdam, 2012) and Institutional Logics (Thornton, Ocasio and Lounsbury, 2012). We draw on primary data collected in interviews with key actors and secondary data collected by the analysis of documents, academic publications, websites, media and information available in the data base of the National Office of Solidarity Economy.   

The resulting narrative is divided in five main sections. In the first part, we briefly suggest how the inequality of Brazilian society shaped the configuration of recycling markets. In the following three parts, we asses how the emergence of solidarity recycling was influenced by movements happening in the Catholic Church, in NGOs engaged in defeating children labor and in the academic field. Then we argue that the convergence of these movements, the support of the Federal Governments of the Workers’ Party and other alliances built have been decisive to constructing this way of organizing recycling.


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Bourdieu, P; Wacquant, LJ.(1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. University of Chicago Press.

Fligstein, N.; Mcadam, D.(2012). A Theory of Fields.New York: Oxford university Press.

IBGE – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística-2010. Pesquisa Nacional de Saneamento Básico 2008. Brasília, DF.

Thornton, P. H.; Ocasio, W.; Lounsbury, M.(2012). The Institutional Logic Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, D. C.; Velis, C.; Cheeseman, C.(2006). Role of informal sector recycling in waste management in developing countries, Habitat International, 30(4), 797–808.