SAO PAULO – Powered only by a breakfast of sweet coffee and toast, widowed single mother Maura Pereira ekes out a living collecting recyclable refuse from the curbsides of this Brazilian metropolis.
Now 43, she has spent more than two decades pushing a cart carrying 400 kilos (880 lbs.) of materials to Sao Paulo’s recycling centers, where she receives the equivalent of 7 cents a kilo for her effort.
And on rainy days, some centers cut the payments by 20%.
Pereira recalls one occasion where she piled 758 kilos (1, 6790 lbs.) of recyclables into her cart.
“My children are what give me strength,” she told EFE. “They didn’t ask to be brought into the world and now that I’ve put them here, I have to be responsible for my actions.”
Maura said she was left alone to care for the kids after her husband’s murder 12 years ago.
Afflicted, like her children, by chronic bronchitis, and accustomed to dirty looks from pedestrians who cross the street to avoid her, Maura says she doesn’t complain or bemoan her plight because it wouldn’t do any good.
Around 65% of the estimated 800,000 to 1 million Brazilians who make a living as “catadores de lixo” (trash collectors) are women, according to data from the National Movement of Recyclable Materials Collectors.
The catadores handle 90% of the country’s recyclables. Even so, while some collectors have formal employment as members of recycling cooperatives, most work in the underground economy, without any benefits or job security.