A Materially Contextualised Account of Waste Pickers’ Marginalisation in Brazil: The Case of ‘Rubbish PET’



Based on the acknowledgment of the materiality of recyclable materials, and therefore of their condition of actants in the recycling market, this paper proposes a materially contextualised account of waste pickers’ marginalisation in Brazil, departing from the extant literature on the topic. Drawing on a mixture of interviews and participant observation data collected during six months of fieldwork using the follow-the-thing approach, it explores the case of ‘rubbish PET’, (i.e., PET—polyethylene terephthalate) bottles dyed in colours other than green or blue to which there is currently no recycling market. The afterlife journey of discarded PET bottles provides the background for a discussion around the capacity of pigments to assert themselves, endangering and defying human efforts to transform discarded PET bottles into resources again. Through the reactions they elicit from those aiming to control their disruptiveness, pigments come to encapsulate the interests of powerful actors and are then transformed into tokens that transmit and reaffirm their hegemony throughout the PET recycling chain, therefore becoming implicated in political processes that contribute to waste pickers’ socioeconomic deprivation.


Follow-the-thingPET bottlesrecyclingmaterialitywaste pickersempowermentBrazil
  • Year: 2019
  • Volume: 2 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 8
  • DOI: 10.5334/wwwj.26
  • Submitted on 20 Dec 2018
  • Accepted on 25 Feb 2019
  • Published on 13 Jun 2019
  • Peer Reviewed