The Forage Tracking project is mapping the tacit knowledge and spatial organization of informal recyclers.

We are using location-detecting hardware and software to investigate how Catadores, informal recyclers in Brazilian cities, find and collect material in the city. We are also developing participatory platforms that will help them to organize their activities and connect the cooperative to the citizens.

In our work with the recycling cooperative COOPAMARE, we try to increase visibility and understanding of the service they provide to the city.

See our conference paper from the 12th Participatory Design Conference in Denmark: Putting the Informal on the Map - Tools for Participatory Waste Management


In the absence of a pervasive formal recycling system, Brazil has a long history of informal recycling cooperatives, whose members try to make a living by collecting recyclable material in the city and sell it in bulk to industry. COOPAMARE, centrally located in São Paulo, is among the earliest of such initiatives.

Recently, a new solid waste law vastly increased the opportunities of cooperatives by integrating them tighter into the solid waste system. At the same time, this increases the need to formalize.


Tracking the movements of recyclers

Most recycling cooperatives gather material by roaming the city in trucks or pushing hand carts. They collect recyclable items by the hundreds of kilograms, and the ways they find and retrieve these are not well understood. Using GPS and mobile phones, we can help them document this tacit knowledge, which can then be applied to optimizing routes, forming new partnerships, and demonstrating key capital needs.

Public interfaces for recycling cooperatives

One major obstacle to the growth of cooperatives is lack of trust between them and potential partners. Businesses and building managers believe informal recycling to be unreliable, while cooperatives need two-way communication channels to coordinate with those they collect from. Applications on the web, smartphone, and SMS might open up many opportunities and bring transparency and trust between the many members of these communities.


Interview tool for audio-synchronous annotation of GPS traces


Smartphone app for requesting recycling pick-ups


Data & Request management based on Ushahidi

Real-time location logging for recycling operations

As cooperatives grow to serve multiple clients spread across cities, they face constraints of time and space. Congestion and miscommunication can result in wasted trips or missed opportunities. Cooperatives can use simple phone-based applications to track their vehicles in real-time, update routes, and log sensitive materials like electronic or chemical waste. Informal recyclers can use these location data to further optimize their own operations, and streamline documentation of their material flows to local governments.


Smartphone with app to be installed in collection vehicles


Using app to QR tag and report e-waste at collection and drop-off


Web-based mapping tool to view current and past location data