‘Many people are aware, but few have an environmental attitude’, collectors talk about challenges

Cacilda, Andreia and Ozileni: family works with collection and separation of recyclable materials (Ricardo Oliveira/Cenarium Magazine)
Ívina Garcia – Cenarium Magazine

MANAUS – Prejudice, difficulty in selling products and informality are the main challenges faced by the Association of Recyclable Material Collectors of the State of Amazonas (Ascarman), located in the North Zone of Manaus, capital of the State.

Working in the business for more than 20 years, Cacilda Soares started her life as a waste picker and recyclables collector at the “garbage dump”, in 2003, where the Manaus City Landfill is now located.

“People threw away good things, clothes, food that would expire the next week. We lived like that”, says the waste picker, who says she lived through moments of terror while trying to survive on materials taken from the garbage.

Cacilda, Andreia and Ozileni: family works with collection and separation of recyclable materials (Ricardo Oliveira/Cenarium Magazine)

According to Cacilda, at the time, the person in charge of the site was strict and committed atrocities to try to prevent people from returning to the dump. Between reports of aggression, rape, and attempted murder, Cacilda supported her family by facing all these obstacles to put food on the table.

“People were at the dump not because they wanted to recycle, it was out of necessity.”

Cacilda Soares, waste collector

Training and opportunity

In 2005, the Manaus City Hall called Cacilda and other well-known waste pickers to start an environmental education work. The project resulted in the association, which, today, has recycling as its main objective.

In the beginning, she says, there was some resistance from some of her colleagues, who ended up abandoning the project. With that, her sons, husband, and daughter-in-law joined the association and helped expand the business.

Currently, Ascarman receives materials from supermarkets, stores, and people who leave their recyclable waste at the site to be separated and appropriate, so that it can be bought by a company that treats the material and transforms it into something new.

Environmental attitude

Every day countless residues are created, which end up in the Manaus City Landfill or are destined for rivers and streams, causing pollution that can be irreparable to the environment. It is because of this that the associates aim to expand their work, while supporting their families with the activity.

“She always fought for this to be formalized, that’s what she always wanted, so that we could have improvements. Always thinking about the collective”,

Andreia Soares, waste collector and daughter of Cacilda.
Shed receives recyclable materials from all over the city (Ricardo Oliveira/Cenarium Magazine)

Andreia Soares, one of Cacilda’s daughters, says that since the pandemic the activity has been more difficult, because the high dollar devalues the recyclable material and makes companies prefer to buy ‘virgin material’.

“Recycling depends a lot on the dollar, going over R$ 5 is very bad, because the price of the raw material falls and for them it is more advantageous to buy virgin material than to spend money on cleaning recyclables”, explains Ozileni Vital, the association’s treasurer.

According to Ozileni, the egg carton is being bought in Venezuela by supermarkets. “There, the box is sold for R$ 0.10 a unit, here, we charge R$ 0.50, sometimes R$ 0.60. Are they going to buy it here? They won’t. They prefer to spend on freight.”

Photos: Ricardo Oliveira/Cenarium Magazine


Andreia relates that part of her adolescence was hearing her house being called a “garbage dump”. This is because at the beginning of the association, Cacilda offered her own land to start the project. “People would ask: ‘Oh, you live in the garbage dump?’ And I would answer yes. In front of our house there was a pile of materials and nobody cared if it was for recycling, they just called it a garbage dump”, she says.

Even with the expansion of the Association of Recyclable Materials Collectors of the State of Amazonas (Ascarman), which now has a warehouse for the deposit, Andreia says that they still suffer prejudice and comments even from people who will make the disposal.

“Some ask us to pick them up and we charge them the price of gasoline, and they find it absurd to have to pay. Many people have the environmental awareness of separating the garbage, but few have the environmental attitude of coming here to drop it off or pay someone to do it”, she says.

For the association, the goal is to grow even more and be able to reach more areas and companies in the city. “We are always thinking about expanding, both to help recycling and to be able to maintain ourselves”, he says.

Solid Waste

According to the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning Companies and Special Waste (Abrelpe), the North Region is responsible for 7.5% of the generation of Urban Solid Waste (USW), being tied with the Midwest, being the smallest generators in Brazil, in 2022.

Despite this, the region is one of those that least performs regular USW collection, according to the survey. About 82.78% of the population has collection coverage. In addition, the study shows that less than R$ 1 billion were invested in urban cleaning and solid waste management services in the North, in 2021.

This lack of investments also results in lower job generation in the area. According to the survey, the North Region has the worst job generation index in the urban cleaning sector, around 24 thousand jobs generated per year, against 98 thousand generated by the Northeast Region, for example.


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