“Coletor Cidadão” debunks the stigma of garbage collectors in Brazil

Social design used to build community awareness around garbage-collecting professionals.

Brazilian social designer Rafael Ternes started Coletor Cidadão (Collector Citizen) as an academic project to empower professional garbage collectors in southern Brazil. Today, with the assistance of partners, the initiative is using design and community building to come up with practical and intelligent solutions to the various obstacles collectors face during their workday.

The project aims to debunk the negative stigma surrounding the figure of the garbage collector. According to Ternes, the garbage collector is “increasingly excluded from society and associated with his work object, assigning him the designations of garbage man or trash man”. Coletor Cidadão attempts to highlight the importance of the collectors’ social role and services by assigning them a new visual identity.

By replacing the term “garbage man” with “collector citizen,” the designers hope to break the association with the worker as an outcast and integrate the worker into collective citizenship. The new name is complemented by a striking logo that emulates and strengthens the collector’s role in society.

In addition to the visual identity project, designers created a communication strategy to put the group in the public eye and meet their needs. This is a step toward creating community awareness around the difficulties that come with the job, which includes wounds from poorly packaged materials and discrimination.

Working together with the collectors, Terne and his team developed an immersive strategy that involved interacting with communities and documenting a day in the life of a garbage collector to expose the realities of the profession.

The team also came up with a tagging system to address the problem of poorly packaged or hazardous waste. Branded tags were designed for residents who wish to dispose of materials they deem harmful to the collector’s health.