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Designing a
Recycling Cooperative

Students are tasked with designing a recycling cooperative as a local alternative economy initiative that provides more stable and higher sources of income for informal workers and tackles inequalities in class, gender and ethnicity.

Activity Outline

This is an example of how I ran this activity. I invite you to use this as a guide and to experiment with your own class. 

1. Explain workshop objective 


Students have to design a plan for setting up a recycling cooperative where waste pickers will no longer sell their waste individually to middlemen, but will bring, sort and sell it to the cooperative instead. I also posited a series of challenges that their designs had to address.


2. Coop location and name selection

The whole class then decided on the cooperative’s location and name. I always encourage students to pick a location with which they, or at least some members of the group, are familiar.


3. Group design work

Students worked in smaller groups on the governance, external support, economic matters and social issues of the coop. The student handout (link) provided each group with a list of questions to answer to structure their work. 


4. Collective masterplan

Students came together as a large group to combine their findings into a master plan that addressed the most important issues they had identified. They collectively created a poster to visually represent their work.


5. Debrief

Each creative activity needs to conclude with a collective discussion session to draw out students’ learning and connect it to the larger topics of the class. I often do that in the following class, after sending students a short survey with some reflection questions.

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Download Extended Workshop Description

Student Word/ks

Reading Suggestions

Section from the Creative Universities Book

Pages 100-104 

These are readings on which students can draw for this activity.

Dias, S. M. (2016). Waste pickers and cities. Environment and Urbanization, 28(2), 375-390.


Millar, K. M. (2014). The precarious present: Wageless labor and disrupted life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Cultural Anthropology, 29(1), 32-53.



I also suggest various case studies of recycling cooperatives which students can read before the activity for inspiration:


Chikarmane, P., & Narayan, L. (2005). Organising the Unorganised: A Case Study of the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (Trade Union of Waste-pickers). Pune: KKPKP.

Tirado-Soto, M. M., & Zamberlan, F. L. (2013). Networks of recyclable material waste-picker’s cooperatives: An alternative for the solid waste management in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Waste management, 33(4), 1004-1012.


Here are two further readings by Demet Dinler who originally created this activity:


Dinler, D. Ş. (2016). New forms of wage labour and struggle in the informal sector: the case of waste pickers in Turkey. Third World Quarterly, 37(10), 1834-1854.


Dinler, D. Ş. (2019). Market, Morality and (Just) Price: The Case of the Recycling Economy in Turkey. In The Politics and Ethics of the Just Price. Emerald Publishing Limited.

Other Teaching Resources


Personal Diverse 

Economic Portfolios



Future Food

Bag of Fruits



Designing Alternative Urban Scenarios

Green Buildings
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