Giving plastic wasteand workersa second life.


Recycling for a Change program transforms waste management and lives

São Paulo, Brazil

A mother whose paycheck supports her family of five. A homeless man reporting to his very first job. A newly released prisoner ready for a chance to rebuild. The Dow Initiative, Recycling for a Change, wants to change their lives — and the future of Latin America's waste management.

Waste picker cooperatives in Brazil are responsible for sorting trash and selling it to recycling companies. All profits from those sales are equally divided among cooperative workers. As cooperatives succeed or fail, so do workers, families, and communities.

Photo: Carol Rahal

Funded by Dow, Recycling for a Change enables the startup Boomera and the NGO Fundación Avina to bring improved training, equipment, administration, and professionalism to cooperatives and workers. Within months of launching the program in Brazil’s largest waste producer, São Paulo, productivity climbed to 70%, sales increased by 50%, and average monthly salaries rose above minimum wage.

The five cooperatives selected to test the program employ 214 workers but touch at least 450 more dependent family members. As cooperatives professionalize, workers experience a new sense of dignity and pride in the role they play within the larger waste management chain. Armed with this new mindset, they view their job as a career with real social value.

Photo: Carol Rahal

Thanks to the cooperative I’ve been able to go to college and give hope to others. I’m an example of how they can turn their lives around.

– Telines Basílio, President of Coopercaps Cooperative

The initiative also creates a better-quality supply for production of post-consumer plastic resin. This provides a new, bigger sales stream for cooperatives and connects to a circular economy model in which plastic waste is recycled and reused, over and over, never reaching the environment.

Leaders predict that much more lies ahead. As new equipment and processes are fully implemented, production could double. Ultimately, the program aims to create an open-source model that can be replicated at other cooperatives—bringing new life to waste, families, and threatened environments throughout Brazil and across Latin America.