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Celebrating the value of waste in Global South Cities


A research team from School of Civil Engineering led by Dr Costas Velis devised a new systems analysis and training tool, SoCo, which explores the costs and benefits of waste management systems.

During the ExpoCatadores 2016, the Brazilian waste pickers (Catadores), celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Brazilian National movement. Catadores are collectors of recyclable materials delivering circular economy on the ground, and their conference, a meeting of over 20,000 people involved with the informal collection and valorisation of recyclable materials across Latin America, was a landmark event.

A research team from School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, led by Dr Costas Velis participated in the ExpoCatadores 2016 in Belo Horizonte, organising a validation workshop for their new systems analysis and training tool called SoCo (Solidary Selective Collection of Waste), developed with support from British Council, Newton Fund.


These recyclers across the urban Global South are responsible for diverting huge volumes of waste material away from landfill and into productive use. Their work is often carried out in difficult and dangerous conditions. Workers often experience harassment and discrimination, are socially excluded, and can receive extremely poor remuneration for their efforts.

The event was an uplifting celebration of the victories achieved by the ‘Movement’ in bringing recognition and appreciation to the large numbers of people involved in making a living from recyclable materials contained in waste, in addition to stimulating debates on the challenges ahead.

Brazil stands out for having a progressive national and state legislation aimed at including Catadores within formalised waste management systems, however a large number of Catadores have yet to see the benefits from these efforts.

Highlights of the ExpoCatadores2016 event included singing, dancing, art, and even a speech from former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, a passionate supporter of their efforts for social inclusion and recognition.


The visit to the conference was carried out as part of the Solidary Selective Collection of Waste (SoCo) Research Project. As part of this research, a new methodology is being developed to explore the full costs and benefits of waste management systems, which is applicable to both the formal and informal sector and in the form of a user-friendly spreadsheet tool. Principal Investigator, Dr Costas Velis, explains:

 the aim of the tool is to understand how the catadores are delivering value to society by recovering materials within a circular economy. The aim is to have the contributions of catadores more widely and openly acknowledged.

The unique software puts emphasis on exploring not only the direct financial costs of these systems, but also the positive social and environmental externalities associated with their processes.


Ultimately, the tool has the potential to be used for comparison and benchmarking purposes, as Dr Velis explains:

It is a tool that can be applied to the whole system – from collection, following the entire supply chain, to where the material is recycled. So, you can compare the role of the catadores with the other stakeholders in the system, but also you can compare different ways that catadores can organise their work within a city, or you can compare the systems of different cities.

The tool is currently being finalised and trialled using case studies from Brazil, but will be expanded for use within the wider Global South context.

Dr Costas Velis, Heather Purshouse and Dave Lerpiniere from School of Civil Engineering, supported by their Brazilian project partners, ran a well-attended workshop, where Catadores leaders from all over Brazil were invited to be trained and then review work on the tool so far, as part of a co-creation process with the intended users of the software. Participants worked in groups and explored the different indicators used by the tool, to ensure that it captures both the financial and material transactions. Participants also explored social and environmental impacts associated with their work that they see and experience in their daily activities.


Further Information

The tool has been co-developed by the University of Leeds (UK), Sustentar and UNICAMP/FLUXUS (Brazil) under the Critical Stakeholder Training on Assessing the Potential for Solidary Selective Collection and Inclusive Recycling of Solid Waste project. Funding for the development of the tool has been provided by the British Council’s Newton Fund and Sustentar.

The tool (software and user manual, in English and Portuguese) and accompanying research papers are expected to be completed in Summer 2017.

A full interview with Dr Costas Velis, for the Regional Initiative for Inclusive Recycling  (IRR) supported by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), can be viewed on Youtube, here.