Wastepickers against pollution and public policy in Federal District, Brazil

The Federal District Government and World Bank-backed project “Sustainable Brasilia” caused stir among the families of Cidade Estrutural, the second most populated favela of Brasil’s Federal District


Cidade Estrutural is the second most populated favela of Brasil’s Federal District. Waste picking is a major source of income for its inhabitants who live close to the biggest landfill in Latin America. Cidade Estrutural started as an illegal settlement created by waste pickers in the 60s and grew rapidly during the 90s, mostly due to incentives by political opponents to the Federal District Government of the time. However, the landfill is also a big source of contamination: dust and air pollutants; insufficient waste management and residual water treatment; slurry from organic waste decomposition. These factors pose a permanent health risk to Estrutural inhabitants, specially to children which are vulnerable population. 

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Basic Data
NameWastepickers against pollution and public policy in Federal District, Brazil
ProvinceBrasilia, Federal District
SiteCidade Estrutural
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Urban development conflicts
Specific CommoditiesDomestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsPickers earn about 40 reais ($12.40) per day collecting materials from the dump that can be sold to recycling operators
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population45,000
Start Date1990
Relevant government actorsFederal District Government; Federal District Housing Development Company (CODHAB); Federal District and territories Public Ministry (MPDFT); Urban cleaning service (SLU)
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank (ESCAMP ,WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAssociação Viver, Casa dos Movimentos Sociais, Ponto de Cultura e Memória, Associações e Prefeituras Comunitárias, Fórum de Monitoramento da Estrutural .Inhabitants of cidade Estrutural
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInformal workers
Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
OtherSpecific impact on children´s health
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The situation of waste pickers is uncertain; some received an economic compensation for losing their jobs, though the value was deemed too low. As for the displaced families, there is no further information on their struggle. With time, the deactivation of Estrutural’s landfill will reduce the risks they are exposed to. But it will take time.
Sources and Materials

DF - Catadores de material reciclável lutam contra contaminação e por políticas públicas
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Dump closure could spell end to Brazil's 'city of rubbish
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Reportagem do DFTV sobre as casinhas
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[click to view]

GDF constroe casas dentro do lixo na Estrutural
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Media Links

Fórum de Monitoramento Social da Estrutural webpage
[click to view]

Other Documents

Lixao Cidade Estructural
[click to view]

Wastepickers in Cidade Estructural
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorFrancisco Venes (FLACSO Ecuador) and Grettel Navas (ICTA-UAB)
Last update07/11/2017