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The Catadores of Ascapéu

The urban waste cycle in Ascapéu - Click to enlarge

The urban waste cycle in Ascapéu – Click to enlarge

The Ascapéu association is working in Pompéu since 2010. There are seven people, coming from the poorest bracket of the population. Catadores are a very important working category in Brasil, since most of the cities don’t have a public enterprise holding urban waste management and disposal. This is why there are catadores, or in other words: workers that runs around the city with a cart, collecting paper, aluminium, steel, plastic and so on, later selected and sold by pound to the recycling industry.

Having a catadores association within the city is an important asset for the public administration, because it means that they care about environment, trying to solve most of the problem that originates from our not sustainable lifestyle. In fact, the towns without catadores have huge dumps, and the selection process is made inside the dump itself, causing many healt problems to the people working there. The working condition inside the dumps are usually inhuman and not sustainable on the long term, there is no healt care nor prevention services, and the workers often handle dangerous and poisonous waste too. Moreover, the dump is often the workplace for entire families, children included, as they are helpful in waste selection.

Another problem comes from value loss, because when something enters the dump, then it inevitably comes into contact with other substances. Thus, the selected material is contaminated and this directly affects its price point when compared to the same material collected by the catadores within the city, before it comes in the dump.

I catadores di Ascapéu - Clicca per ingrandire

I catadores di Ascapéu – Clicca per ingrandire

The seven catadores of Ascapéu come from the Pompéu dump. Four years ago, the municipality asked them to form a catadores association, promising to get them out of their tight spot in the dump. Moreover, the mayor assured that the municipality would help the newborn association in writing their statute and handling the needed procedures.

As it often happens, words are different than facts. The hut where catadores work is a collecting and selection point for waste material. It’s not of their own property, as the municipality asks for a rent. The mayor, at the time in campaign, went back on most of the promises: there is only a little help on procedures, and the president of the association does all the work, while caring her four children and two nephews and fighting both the municipality and the other six catadores, that most of the time are more a problem then a help.

Inside the hut, there is a press used to reduce the volume of the selected wastes, that are later sold to the recycling industry. The area sorrounding the hut is used as gathering place for waste, while it is selected and packed inside. The hut is not exactly the place where you would like work: there is no toilette, no working door and no “relax” spot to take a break from the hard daily work.

Anyway, the seven catadores of Ascapéu are able to get a basic living wage for brasilian standards, allowing them to survive. After the first years of trial stage, today the association covers the entire city: the catadores work in different city areas, and three of them travel around by car, a huge step over the hand-driven carts. The remaining four goes by foot: they cannot get a driving license, as they are illiterate, a common condition down here. However, they don’t work alone in the hut, but they work together with all their family, above all with their sons.

It’s easy to find any kind of material here, collected down the streets or in a warehouse, and often some waste cannot be recycled.

This is why the hut is used as a material library: many people of the suburbs come here before to buy anything, searching for something they can use or adapt to their needs. Where there are no moneys, people think many times about buying things and, if possible, the prefer to make what they need, insted of buying it: this is another money source for Ascapéu, helping them to reach the end of the month. Furthermore, it’s a spontaneous form of upcycling, as they give new life to EOL material.

The idea of a creative design center comes from these premises and from the preliminary analysis of the brasilian student Thayana de Meneses (Politechnic of Turin), focusing on wastes that cannot be recycled: a place where sustainable practices and lifestyles are told to the catadores, enabling new earnings for them, both economical and in terms of knowledge.