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Helen Clark tours recycling cooperative outside Montevideo, Uruguay, November 10, 2011. (UNDP)

Uruguay: Recycling waste into livelihoods

09 Nov 2011

Montevideo - On the final day of a three day visit to Uruguay, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited a recycling plant outside Montevideo which forms part of a poverty and environment initiative supported by UNDP and UNEP.

22% of Montevideo’s citizens live below the poverty line, and one third of these households are located in irregular settlements - areas characterized by inadequate basic services, scarce access to sanitation and drinking water, and overcrowding. Uruguayan officials estimate that around 30,000 people in Montevideo participate in an informal recycling sector, gathering trash from the landfill or from the street, separating it, and selling it in the informal market. 

To address this issue, which had serious health and environmental implications, UNDP and UNEP worked with the national and municipal government to develop a pilot plan to bring these informal workers into the formal sector and create a social safety net for these communities. 

One of the results of this plan was the creation of Ave Fénix, a 21-member cooperative recycling programme. Four years ago, most of its members were informal recyclers who now work cooperatively as part of the formal recycling sector.  Through this project, they now have access to social protection and have doubled their salaries.

Through this initiative, the members of this cooperative receive training on hygienic ways of dealing with waste, and on how to prepare it for sale.  Through the cooperative, they are also able to purchase compacting machines which enable bulk items like plastics to be compressed and bundled. 

Ave Fénix is one of four recycling cooperatives created as part of this pilot, which the government intends to scale up nationally. Thus far, 70 formal jobs have been created for informal recyclers, and 17% of the solid waste is being recovered and recycled annually, greatly reducing what goes into Uruguay’s landfills.