1. Catadores Are In The Formal Economy
- Individual catadores drop off waste at recycling facilities (the straight arrow)
- Catadores create collectives to aggregate their recyclables and send them in bulk (the light blue rectangle)
Our first lesson was that cooperatives rarely, if ever, included catadores. The coops had their own waste collection services, either with their own trucks or through municipal partnerships. Despite being adjacent in the value chain, every coop had its own reason for excluding waste pickers: cash flow issues, geography, reliability, the list went on.
It was not until we visited a Sao Paulo favela that we met actual autonomous catadores living in the community. Working directly with recycling plants, was not even on their radar, instead they were deeply dependent on middle men trading groups. The reality is that in spite of the goals of legislation, catadores had no direct connections to the formal recycling economy.
2. The Catador Struggle Is Financial
We Learned: The factors that influence a catador's socioeconomic status were far more diverse than expected. Financial considerations were certainly a big factor. Race, gender, sexuality, hometown, and personality all appeared in the stories we heard. But time and again, we found the biggest correlation with unsuccessful outcomes is drug and alcohol abuse.
The majority of the catadores we interviewed were drunk every time we met them. By contrast, our bright spot users did not drink, even in some cases trying to spread their zero tolerance policies to the rest of the community.
3. Design Thinking is Unique
We Learned: Design process and "brave thinking" were constants in these communities. From Giral to Universidade de Sao Paulo to the innovative efforts of the Vila Nova Esperança favela, it was a pleasure and humbling to work with incredibly knowledgable and talented partners during our trip. Similarly, our expectations with users needed to be adjusted. Our value came from "designing with", not "designing to" the community.