Safety First in Belo Horizonte

Securing the health of waste collectors and sorters during Covid-19


The municipality of Belo Horizonte in the south-east of Brazil introduced a Covid-19 safety protocol for the selective collection and screening of recyclable materials. The protocol ensured that waste management services could continue during the pandemic and that waster pickers and sorters were protected as effectively as possible.


Belo Horizonte’s waste management system traditionally includes informal waste collectors and sorters, around 80 per cent of whom are women. Since 1990, more and more waste collectors have organised themselves in cooperatives, which offer them basic social protection and collective strength in the market.

The municipality’s Urban Cleansing Superintendency (SLU), which is responsible for the city’s solid waste management, aims to integrate the cooperatives and the independent collectors more fully into its waste management system.

In March 2020, the municipality had to temporarily stop the selective collection and sorting of recyclable materials due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


The municipality of Belo Horizonte aimed to keep up waste collection and sorting of recyclable waste during the Covid-19 pandemic and protect waste collectors and sorters. Most of them belong to vulnerable groups and lack livelihood security.


At the beginning of the pandemic, the municipality set up a Garbage and Citizen Forum to start a dialogue with the individual waste collectors and sorters and the cooperatives about Covid-19-related safety measures. Non-governmental organisations, scientists and technicians also participated in the dialogue. These stakeholders jointly developed a Covid-19 safety protocol for the workplace and beyond. In partnership with the collectors’ cooperatives, the municipality offered online training about safety measures such as social distancing, the use of protective equipment and disinfection on the streets, in the warehouses and at the collectors’ homes.

During the suspension of waste collection, the municipality supplied waste collectors with emergency assistance in the form of food parcels, as well as hygiene kits to protect them from infection.


The safety protocol was successfully implemented with the help of daily checklists, rigorous use of protective equipment, social distancing and reorganised work processes. The online training provided collectors with the necessary knowledge, and the partnership with the cooperatives resulted in high participation levels.

As a consequence, only 1 per cent of all collectors were infected with Covid-19 at work. As they are a priority group in the municipality’s vaccination campaign, 95 per cent of the collectors have been fully vaccinated.

During the pandemic, many independent collectors recognised the benefits that the cooperatives offer and around 5 per cent of them joined a cooperative.


Through an integrated approach, it was possible to protect selective waste collectors and sorters from Covid-19 infection. The systematic training has proven to be a suitable tool to reach this group and the municipality aims to extend it in 2022 to address the modernisation of collection and sorting processes.

In addition, the pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of individual collectors and workers, who do not benefit from the cooperatives’ protection schemes. The municipality therefore aims to improve their social protection.


Ana Paula Assunção
Chief of the Department of Social and Mobilization Policies
Urban Cleaning Superintendency (SLU)
Municipality of Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Bernardo SM Ribeiro
Director of International Relations
International Relations Office
Municipality of Belo Horizonte, Brazil


Categories: COVID-19 Public Health & Public Services Municipal services Solid waste management and recycling
Regions: Latin America Brazil Belo Horizonte


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