an official journal of: published by:
Editor in Chief: RAFFAELLO COSSU


  • Jutta Gutberlet - Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Canada


Released under CC BY-NC-ND

Copyright: © 2022 CISA Publisher


The paper discusses research results on waste governance and circular economy, conducted with waste picker cooperatives in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil. Two cases have been selected, from a pool of 21 waste picker organizations, to video document their grassroots eco-social innovations that have improved local waste management and the lives of the cooperative members. The videos support knowledge sharing with key actors in waste governance and the circular economy. Social grassroots innovation theory focuses on livelihood opportunities beyond the formal labour market, pursuing social inclusion by creating meaningful work for individuals who were considered left out and in vulnerable situations. Transitioning to sustainability necessarily goes beyond socio-technical innovations but rather integrates eco-social perspectives. After first introducing grassroots innovation theory and the concept of eco-social innovations the paper describes the empirical frame and presents two cases where organized waste pickers were successful in operationalizing innovations that address the circular economy and contribute to sustainability transitions. Key findings highlighted are cooperative governance, long-term partnership building, improved productivity and increased income.


Editorial History

  • Received: 27 Jun 2022
  • Revised: 10 Nov 2022
  • Accepted: 21 Dec 2022
  • Available online: 24 Feb 2023


Amauchi, J., Gauthier, M., Ghezeljeh, Z., Giatti, L., Keats, K., Sholanke, D., Zachari, D. & Gutberlet, J. (2021). The Power of Community-Based Participatory Research: Ethical and Effective Ways of Researching. Community Development, 53 (1), 3-20.
DOI 10.1080/15575330.2021.1936102

Azevedo, A. M. M. de, Carenzo, S., Goodluck, C., Gutberlet, J., Kain, J.-H., Oloko, M. O., Pérez Reynosa, J., Zapata, P. & Zapata Campos, M. J. (2018). Inclusive waste governance and grassroots innovations for social, environmental and economic change: Report on first research outcomes of the project Recycling Networks & Waste Governance. In collaboration with WIEGO. ISBN 978-91-984547-3-4

Barford, A. & Ahmad, S.R. (2021). A Call for a Socially Restorative Circular Economy: Waste Pickers in the Recycled Plastics Supply Chain. Circ.Econ.Sust. 1, 761–782.
DOI 10.1007/s43615-021-00056-7

Boyer, R. (2014). Sociotechnical transitions and urban planning a case study of eco-cohousing in Tompkins county, New York. J. Plan. Educ. Res., 34 (4), 451-464

Carenzo, S. (2020). Contesting informality through innovation “from below”: epistemic and political challenges in a waste pickers cooperative from Buenos Aires (Argentina). Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society, 3(1), 441-471

Carenzo, S., Goodluck, C., Gutberlet, J., Kain, J.-H., Oloko, M., Pérez Reinosa, J., Zapata, P. & Zapata Campos, M. J. (2022). Grassroots innovations in ‘extreme’ urban environments. The inclusive recycling movement. Politics and Space (in press)

Cole, A. L. & Knowles, J. G. (2008). Arts-informed research. In J. G. Knowles, & A. L. Cole (Eds.), Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues (pp. 55-70). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Coletto, D. & Bisschop, L. (2017). Waste pickers in the informal economy of the Global South: included or excluded?. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. 37 (5/6): 280-294

Damásio, J. (2008). Cadeia produtiva da reciclagem e oranização de redes de cooperativas de catadores: Oportunidades e elementos críticos para a construição de tecnologia social de combate à pobreza e inclusão social no estado da Bahia, Salvador, UFBA, Pangea; FAPESB, (Relatório Final de Pesquisa). pp. 1–397,

De Haan, J. H. & Rotmans, J. (2011). Patterns in transitions: Understanding complex chains of change. Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 78, 90-102

Dias, S. M. (2016). Waste pickers and cities. Environment and Urbanization, 28 (2), 375-390

Eisner, E. W. (1997). The promise and perils of alternative forms of data representation. Educational Researcher, 26 (6), 4-10

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (n.d.). Circular Economy. Accessed 23.06.2022

Feola, G. & Nunes, R. (2014). Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: the case of the transition movement. Glob. Environ. Change, 24, 232-250

Geels, F. W. (2012). The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: responses to seven criticisms. Environ. Innovation Soc. Transitions, 1 (1), 24-40

Geels, F. W. (2005). Technological transitions and system innovations, A Co-Evolutionary and Socio-Technical Analysis, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA, USA

Gille, Z. (2012). From risk to waste: global food waste regimes. The Sociological Review, 60, 27-46

Goodluck, C., Gutberlet, J., Azevedo, A. M. M. de, Carenzo, S., Kain, J-H., Oloko, M. O., Pérez Reynosa, J., Zapata, P. & Zapata Campos, M. J. (2019). Sustainable Waste Collection and Recycling for Inclusive Cities. Report on updated research outcomes of the project Recycling Networks & Waste Governance, ISBN 978-1-7776032-0-5.
DOI 10.13140/RG.2.2.24170.64967

Grabs, J., Langen, N., Maschkowski, G. & Schapke, N. (2016). Understanding role models for change: a multilevel analysis of success factors of grassroots initiatives for sustainable consumption. Journal for Cleaner Production, (134), 98-111

Gupta, A. K. (2012). Innovations for the poor by the poor. Int. J. Technol. Learn. Innovation Dev., 5, (1–2), 28-39

Gutberlet, J. (2021). Grassroots waste picker organizations addressing the UN sustainable development goals. World Development, 138, 105195.
DOI 10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105195

Gutberlet, J. (2015). Cooperative urban mining in Brazil: Collective practices in selective household waste collection and recycling. Waste Management, 45, 22-31.
DOI 10.1016/j.wasman.2015.06.023

Gutberlet, J., Besen, G. R. & Morais, L. (2020). Participatory solid waste governance and the role of social and solidarity economy: Experiences from São Paulo, Brazil. Detritus, 13, 167-180.
DOI 10.31025/2611-4135/2020.14024

Gutberlet, J. & Carenzo, S. (2020). Waste Pickers at the Heart of the Circular Economy: A Perspective of Inclusive Recycling from the Global South. Worldwide Waste: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 3 (1), 1–14.
DOI 10.5334/wwwj.50

Gutberlet, J., Carenzo, S., Kain, J-H., & de Azevedo, A. M. M. (2017). Waste Picker Organizations and Their Contribution to the Circular Economy: Two Case Studies from a Global South Perspective. Resources, 6, (52), 1-12

Gutberlet, J., Kain, J-H., Nyakinda, B., Oshieng, D. H., Odhiambo, N., Oloko, M., Omolo, J., Omondi, E., Otieno, S., Zapata, P. & Zapata Campos, M. J. (2016). Socio-environmental entrepreneurship and the provision of critical services in informal settlements. Environment and Urbanization, 28, 205-222.
DOI 10.1177/0956247815623772

Gutberlet, J., Sorroche, S., Martins Baeder, A., Zapata, P. & Zapata Campos, M. J. (2021). Waste pickers and their insurgent practices of environmental stewardship. The Journal of Environment & Development, 30 (4), 369-394.
DOI 10.1177/10704965211055328

Hajer, M., Nilsson, M., Raworth, K., Bakker, P., Berkhout, F., de Boer, Y., Rockström, J., Ludwig, K., Kok, M. (2015). Beyond cockpitism: Four insights to enhance the transformative potential of the sustainable development goals. Sustainability, 7, 1651–1660

Hargreaves, T., Hielscher, S., Seyfang, G. & Smith, A. (2013). Grassroots innovations in community energy: the role of intermediaries in niche development. Global Environmental Change, 23 (5), 868-880

Hess, D. J. (2013). Industrial fields and countervailing power: the transformation of distributed solar energy in the United States. Global Environmental Change, 23 (5), 847-855

Hoppe, T., Graf, A., Warbroek, B., Lammers, I. & Lepping, I. (2015). Local governments supporting local energy initiatives: lessons from the best practices of Saerbeck (Germany) and Lochem (The Netherlands). Sustainability, 7 (2), 1900-1931

Hossain, M. & Anees-ur-Rehman, M. (2016). Open innovation: an analysis of twelve years of research. Strategic Outsourcing: An International Journal, 9 (1), 22-37

Kain, J.-H., Zapata, P., de Azevedo, A. M. M., Carenzo, S., Charles, G., Gutberlet, J. Oloko, M. Reynosa, J. P. & Zapats Campos, M. J. (2022). Characteristics, challenges and innovations of waste picker organizations: a comparative perspective between Latin American and East African countries. PlosOne, 1-27.
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0265889

Kaza, S., Yao, L., Bhada-Tata, P. & VanWoerden, F. (2018). What a waste 2.0: A global snapshot of solid waste management to 2050. Urban Development Series, World Bank Publications

Kirwan J. K., Ilbery B., Maye, D. & Carey, J. (2013). Grassroots social innovations and food localisation: An investigation of the Local Food programme in England. Global Environmental Change, 23, 830–837

Leach, M., Rokstrom, J., Raskin, P., Scoones, A. C., Stirling, A. C., Smith, A. & Olsson P. (2012). Transforming innovation for sustainability. Ecol. Soc., 17 (2), 452-458

Martin, C. J. & Upham, P. (2016). Grassroots social innovation and the mobilisation of values in collaborative consumption: a conceptual model. J. Clean. Prod., 134 (Part A), 204-213

Matthies, A.-L., Stamm, I., Hirvilammi, T. & Närhi, K. (2019). Ecosocial innovations and their capacity to integrate ecological, economic and social sustainability transition. Sustainability, 11.
DOI 10.3390/su11072107

Morais, J., Corder, G., Golev, A., Lawson, L. & Ali, S. (2022). Global review of human waste-picking and its contribution to poverty alleviation and a circular economy. Environmental Research Letters. 17 063002

O’Riordan, T. (2013). Sustainability for Wellbeing. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans., 6, 24–34

Parra, C. (2013). Social sustainability: A competing concept to social innovation? In: The International Handbook on Social Innovation: Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdiciplinary Research, Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D.,Mehmood, A., Hamdouch, A., Eds., Edward Elgar Publishing Limited: Cheltenham, UK

Petrarca, D. M. & Hughes, J. M. (2014). Mobilizing Knowledge via Documentary Filmmaking — Is the Academy Ready? McGill Journal of Education / Revue des sciences de l’éducation de McGill, 49(3), 561–582.
DOI 10.7202/1033547ar

Reinsberger, K., Brudermann, T., Hatzl, S., Fleiß, E. & Posch, A. (2015). Photovoltaic diffusion from the bottom-up: analytical investigation of critical factors. Appl. Energy, 159, 178-187

Seyfang, G. (2010). Community action for sustainable housing: building a low-carbon future. Energy Policy, 38, (12), 7624-7633

Seyfang, G. & Haxeltine, A. (2012). Growing grassroots innovations: exploring the role of community-based initiatives in sustainable energy transitions. Environment and Planning C, 30 (3), 381–400

Seyfang, G. & Longhurst, N. (2016). What influences the diffusion of grassroots innovations for sustainability? Investigating community currency niches. Technol. Anal. Strategic Manag., 28 (1), 1-23

Seyfang, G. & Smith, A. (2007). Grassroots innovations for sustainable development: Towards a new research and policy agenda. Environmental Politics, 16, 584-603

Smith, A. (2006). Green niches in sustainable development: the case of organic food in the United Kingdom. Environment and Planning C, 24, 439–458

Smith, A., Fressoli, M., Abrol, D., Around, E. & Ely, A. (2017). Grassroots innovation movements. Pathways to sustainability. Routledge, New York

Smith, A., Fressoli, M. and Thomas, H. (2014). Grassroots innovation movements: challenges and contributions. Journal of Cleaner Production, 63, 114-124

Sousa Dutra, de R. M., Yamane, L. H. & Siman, R. R. (2018). Influence of the expansion of the selective collection in the sorting infrastructure of waste pickers’ organizations: a case study of 16 Brazilian cities. Waste Management, 77, 50–58.
DOI 10.1016/j.wasman.2018.05.009

Stamm, I. P., Hirvilammi, T., Matthies, A.-L., & Närhi, K. (2017). Ecosocial Innovations as Part of Social and Solidarity Economy: Local Models for a Sustainable Development. RISUS - Revista de Inovação e Sustentabilidade, 8(4), 200-218.
DOI 10.24212/2179-3565.2017v8i4p200-218

Wallimann, I. (2013). Environmental policy is social policy – Social policy is environmental policy: Toward Sustainability Policy. New York: Springer

Zapata Campos, M. J. & Zapata, P. (2017). Infiltrating citizen-driven initiatives for sustainability. Environmental Politics, 26 (6), 1055-1078

Zapata Campos, M. J., Carenzo, S., Kain, J.-H., Oloko, M, Reynosa, J. P. & Zapata, P. (2021). Inclusive recycling movements: a green deep democracy from below. Environment and Urbanization, 33 (2), 579-598.
DOI 10.1177/0956247820967621