University of and for waste pickers tackling SDGs

Source of Action
World Urban Forum
2022 - 2024
Last Updated
27 March 2023


Worldwide, waste pickers work under deplorable conditions and are not recognized for their environmental and community services of recovering and diverting recyclable materials from waste. Brazil has accumulated experiences of international relevance, due to the existence of a strong Social and Solidarity Economy and the creation of a National Waste Pickers’ movement. These conditions have favored the formation of new recycling cooperatives throughout the country. Research has demonstrated that when organized and supported by public policies and inclusive governance, waste pickers are able to tackle several of the UN Sustainable development Goals (SDGs), mainly goals number 1, 5, 8, 11 and 12 (Gutberlet, 2021) . Creating a university of and for waste pickers has the potential to make significant transformative impacts. Our vision is to create a hybrid (online and in person) university based on Paulo Freire's popular education pedagogy and “pair learning”. This university aims to expand access to knowledge and expand possibilities for reflection. We are imagining a space of excellence where one can dream, dare, innovate and be inspired by transforming ideas and achievements in the field of popular education of the social movements of waste pickers. The immediate expected results will be the formation of first pilot groups of waste pickers in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo who will participate in the first extension courses for waste pickers, tackling topics such as (1) social responsibility and the environment, (2) social entrepreneurship, (3) reverse logistics, (4) Plastics, (5) work safety, (6) waste governance, (7) Circular Economy, (8) Mental health and (9) effective communication and knowledge mobilization. Previously conducted research shows how waste picker organizations address social, economic and environmental targets, how they build resilience and reduce vulnerabilities, as well as how they are able to contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Creating an appropriate learning space for the complex socioeconomic and cultural universe of waste pickers, to promote access to and sharing of diverse knowledge is crucial. Public policies and participation in governance are instrumental in acknowledging waste picker organizations and remunerating their services to thus unlock their full potential to further the progress on the implementation of SDGs. The university of and for waste pickers (UNICATA) has the potential to support waste pickers so that they can become the champions in the transition to more sustainable development. As ways of measuring of our declared actions, we propose to generate qualitative and quantitative indicators that demonstrate successful course design, based on the creation of curricular content that is innovative and appropriate to the context of waste pickers and that promotes social, economic and environmental sustainability. We will further develop indicators to measure participation rates in teaching and attendance of classes, and finally, we will describe the qualitative outcomes related to the accumulation of new knowledge based on participation in the university of and for waste pickers. Gutberlet, J. (2021) Grassroots waste picker organizations addressing the UN sustainable development goals. World Development, 138 (2021) 105195.

Outcomes and Impacts

Increased and equitably distributed locally generated revenues, Reduced greenhouse emissions and improved air quality, Improved resource efficiency and protection of ecological assets, Enhanced social integration and inclusive communities, Resilience, Cleaner cities, community empowerment

Level of Activity


Lead Entity

Community-based Research Laboratory

Key Dates

Start year: 1/1/2022

Sustainable Development Goals

Goal 1 - End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 5 - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Goal 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns