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Aurá dump and the struggle of Belém's informal wastepickers, Pará, Brazil


The Aurá dump, situated at the outskirts of Pará’s capital Belém, in the neighboring city Ananindeua, has been one of Brazil’s largest and most controversial dumping grounds. It was officially closed down for domestic waste disposal in 2015, following a new act in the country’s solid waste policy (Lei 12.305).

Aurá was opened in 1990 and was initially a landfill for ash and incinerated waste. After functioning as a sanitary landfill for a few years, it degraded and became an uncontrolled landfill overloaded with all types of waste. Between 1991 and 2015, it served as the main dumpsite of the Belém metropolitan area, receiving up to 1,800 tons of waste per day. From at least 2005 onwards, there was no treatment or selective waste collection. Aurá has been frequented by more than 1,800 informal wastepickers, so-called catadores, making it the second-largest Brazilian dump in this regard. From an environmental standpoint, wastepickers’ work is very significant and accounts for almost 90 percent of all recycling in Brazil (where only 1,4 percent of all solid waste gets recycled). Their work also has a social dimension: for many catadores it is a means of survival, as the selling of collected materials such as metal or plastic allows them to gain a minimal income. This happens in a context characterized by persistent urban inequality and social marginalization. Some wastepickers even live around dump sites and eat the food collected there. This also happens in Aurá, where subsistence fishing and animal raising are no longer possible due to water contamination. [1][2][3][4][5a][5b][6][7]

Precarious social conditions are closely linked to environmental degradation, which has increased along with the amount of waste deposited there. While a 1998 study had already found contaminated leachate in the river basin, problems continued as the site became increasingly overloaded with garbage, affecting the water quality of the entire metropolitan area. Toxic substances accumulated in the soil, impacting animal populations, and water reservoirs used by the local communities, who frequently suffered from diarrhea, dermatitis and other illnesses. [2][6][8][9][10] Due to anaerobic decomposition of organic material, the dumping ground also became a notable emitter of methane with an estimated 480,000 tons released between 1992 and 2017, equivalent to the burning of 34,000 hectares of forest. [11]

In 2006, the Canadian company Conestoga Rovers & Associates launched the Aurá Landfill Gas Project, installing a landfill gas collection and flaring system that – over a project duration of 10 years – would capture methane generated at the site before entering the atmosphere and thereby reduce emissions compared to a scenario of uncontrolled release of gas. The project was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UNFCCC, allowing trading of ‘Certified Emission Reductions’ on the private carbon market. [7] [12]

With the adoption of Brazil’s new National Solid Waste Policy in 2010 – which came after a period of uncontrolled urban growth and in the run-up of a series of mega-events (Río+20 Conference, FIFA World Cup, Olympic Games) – municipalities were required to adopt integrated waste management plans, leading to the closure of a number of problematic dumping grounds across the country, which were replaced by controlled, usually privatized landfills. The new regulation also provided for the inclusion of affected wastepickers’ perspectives, as well as their integration into municipal waste management plans. This would become a major focal point of their revendications. [4][13][14]

In the case of the Belém metropolitan area, the Aurá dump was to be closed down for domestic waste disposal from 2014 onwards. While the company CTR Guajará was initially contracted in 2012 to transform the Aurá into a controlled landfill, the contract was canceled by the municipalities of Belém and Ananindeua shortly after due to irregularities in the bidding process. However, CTR continued operating for a while without an environmental license. Political controversies continued when, in 2013, Pará’s Public Ministry used an emergency clause to support a new landfill project by the company Revita Engenharia in the neighboring city of Marituba. This was presented as a long-term solution to the waste problem that would eventually allow the complete closure and remediation of the Aurá area. [4][13][15]

Since 2012, wastepickers in Aurá have been organizing in the Associação dos Catadores do Aurá (ASCA), which, together with the formation of cooperatives, has increased the visualization of wastepickers in the wider public and created closer linkages with civil society. This has also helped support social mobilization and the articulation of their claims. [5a][16][17]

Mobilization intensified when plans to close the Aurá dump and open a new landfill in Marituba were discussed without the participation of catadores. Attempts to prevent wastepickers’ access to the Aurá dump had been reported since 2012 and triggered dissatisfaction and first street blockades. [4] In 2013 and 2014, prior to the Aurá dump closure, the local association, together with Brazil’s National Movement of the Pickers of Recyclable Material (MNCR; Movimento Nacional dos Catadores de Recicláveis), initiated a series of protests. These included street demonstrations with hundreds of participants, blockades of the BR-316 highway and the dump entrance, as well as an open letter to then-president Dilma Rousseff. The main demands of the movement centered on indemnities for wastepickers affected by the dump closure, maintaining access to the dumpsite as long as their rights were not ensured (e.g. when it comes to measures allowing them to continue recycling work elsewhere and under better conditions), and the formation of a working group that would monitor the implementation of these rights. Protesters bemoaned aggression by the police and claimed that without catadores, the cities would sink in the garbage within weeks. Refusing negotiations with deputies, they also demanded a meeting with Belém’s mayor and a revision of the conditions of an earlier signed Conduct Adjustment Agreement (see project details) in order to assure the participation of catadores in municipal waste management plans and more socially inclusive policies (like public contracting of wastepicker associations and cooperatives to formally implement recycling services). [3][4][13][18][19]

Moreover, Aurá’s wastepicker association accused the Public Ministry of Pará of acting against the public interest since the company Revita Engenharia – concession holder of the new landfill in Marituba – would receive all lucrative waste of the metropolitan region without a proper public bidding process and without a satisfying solution for wastepickers. Losing access to domestic waste at the new site, catadores not only experienced their rights and earlier agreements with the municipalities of Belém, Ananindeua, and Marituba being infringed upon, but they also feared that this would allow the company to dictate the price at the cost of taxpayers. [13] Mobilization also came from residents of Marituba, who had been affected by smell and polluted water since the opening of the landfill and had been repeatedly demonstrating for its closure. [20]

From June 2015 onwards, the Aurá dump officially ceased to receive domestic waste – meaning that an estimated 1,100 kg per day from then on went to Marituba – while the disposal of other types of solid waste, e.g. construction debris and inert waste, continued. Despite the official closure, many wastepickers returned to the Aurá dump, often out of extreme urgency as they did not receive support through public social programs. For example, while the municipality of Belém claimed after the closure that dialogue with wastepickers and social inclusion measures had already been initiated, wastepickers argued that measures such as employment in selective waste collection cooperatives and capacity building had only reached a part of the affected population, while the rest continues to struggle. [1] [14] [16]

As of 2018, Belém counted 500 irregular sites for waste dumping and numerous streets in which garbage had not been picked up for weeks because collection services were not functioning as they should. [8] Researchers of the Instituto Evandro Chagas (IEC) in 2018 found the Aurá dump abandoned from public control and called it a running time bomb that has to be remediated immediately in order to prevent further damage. There had been no soil sealing after the closure and leachate continued to come out of the garbage mountains, affecting water resources within the environmental protection zone, the local fauna and food chain, and the communities along the Rio Aurá. In addition, the study detected carcinogenic smoke caused by the combustion of methane gas, a byproduct of organic waste decomposition. [14][21][22] In fact, the entire metropolitan region has been repeatedly affected by the uncontrolled burning of methane gas concentrated on the ground in Aurá and the smoke and air pollution that it generates. [23] In 2019, local residents reported spotting dead fish and shrimps in several of the river basin’s streams, possibly caused by the percolation of untreated leachate from Aurá. Public authorities again ordered inspections and initiated viability studies for potential alternative landfill sites. [14][24]

In 2019, the situation escalated further when the Marituba landfill suddenly stopped accepting waste from the municipalities because of outstanding debts to its operator, Guamá Resíduos Sólidos, which moreover claimed that the site had exceeded capacity and that an extension was not possible without a series of licenses, studies, and authorizations. Politicians blamed the company for economically abusing the situation, as it demanded R$ 114 per ton of waste instead of the R$ 65 agreed in the contract and the R$ 80 offered by the municipality of Belém. Since 2017, following protests and police operations in Marituba, the Public Ministry of Pará has filed lawsuits against the landfill operator Guamá, the concessionary Revita Engenharia, and Vega Valorização de Resíduos and Solvi Participações (other companies involved in waste management), as well as against ten individuals responsible for these companies (three of whom were arrested). These parties were accused of a series of delicts – ranging from offenses in the licensing process to environmental crimes around inadequate waste treatment in the Marituba landfill. The reported crimes seemed to match those reported in Aurá: waste was dumped on soil that had not been properly sealed and the resulting leachate had not been treated due to a lack of storage ponds, contaminating the Pau Grande stream and an integrated conservation unit in Marituba. The Public Ministry also sanctioned the municipalities of Belém, Ananindeua and Marituba with a fine for every day of non-compliance with their obligations, since they should have implemented measures for integrated solid waste management, selective waste collection, environmental recovery and protection, and the integration of wastepickers since 2014. Confronted with the waste crisis, Belém’s mayor and other politicians considered temporarily reopening the Aurá dump until an alternative site could be found – a plan that was vehemently criticized by environmental experts and researchers. [8][14][21][22][25][26][27][28]

A recent court decision has prolonged the operation of the Marituba landfill for two more years – increasing the price paid per ton of waste to R$ 90, while also pursuing a more permanent solution. The municipality of Belém in August 2019 used an emergency clause to officially permit the possibility of domestic waste disposal in Aurá and announced the installation of a “waste treatment cell” on the site. It was claimed that it would only be temporarily used in case of congestion or incidents in Marituba and be “controlled”, meaning no irregular waste disposal and no access for wastepickers. [24] [28] [29] [30]

As it stands now, this has probably not been the last chapter of Belém's municipal waste crisis. Wastepickers and local communities continue to face numerous social and environmental problems caused by both the consequences of inadequate landfills and irregular dumping and the insufficient creation of future perspectives of wastepickers after by the dump enclosure.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Aurá dump and the struggle of Belém's informal wastepickers, Pará, Brazil
State or province:Pará
Location of conflict:Ananindeua
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Urban development conflicts
Gas flaring
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Industrial waste
Recycled Metals
Carbon offsets

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Aurá dump was opened in 1990, initially as a landfill that then degraded to an open-air dump. It is located 19 km east of Belém’s center, in the Águas Lindas neighborhood of the city of Ananindeua, in close proximity to Rio Aurá. The location is problematic in that  it lies within the Environmental Protection Zone of Belém (created three years after the opening of the dumping ground), characterized by soft soil and a floodplain, and is home to at least 200 families and the quilombola community Abacatal. [4][5a] [9] [21] The waste dump covers an area of 120 hectares of which a quarter has been used as waste fill area. [12]

The whole Aurá area is inhabited by a total of 30,000 families in ten communities (Verdejantes (I, II, III andd IV), Águas Brancas, Moara-Jerusalém, Olga Benário, Nova Vida, Tanguará and Arnal) – the larger part of them living in conditions of poverty and without adequate access to public services. [2] The dump received up to 1,800 tons of waste per day while its successor in the Alça Viária neighborhood of Marituba only accepted 1,300 tons, since its operators claimed that it had reached its capacities. [8] A 2013 census counted 1,824 waste pickers in Aurá. [1]

The partial closure of Aurá came as a result of the Brazilian National Policy on Solid Waste (Política Nacional de Resíduos Sólidos), adopted in 2010 through Lei 12.305/2010 and decree 7.404/2010. [4] [5a] As a step towards implementation, the municipalities of Belém, Ananindeua and Marituba in 2013 signed a Conduct Adjustment Agreement which, among others, would commit them to the integrated management of solid waste, selective waste collection systems and the integration of waste pickers within these, as well as the recovery of the Aurá area and monitoring of the river basin. [14]

The Aurá Landfill Gas Project is registered under the Clean Development Mechanism as Project 0888; find more details and a list of monitoring reports here:

Project area:120
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:1,824 (wastepickers according to 2013 census) + local communities
Start of the conflict:1990
Company names or state enterprises:Conestoga-Rovers & Associates (CRA) from Canada - Managed CDM certified biogas capturing project in Aurá
Central de Tratamento de Resíduos Guajará (CTR Guajará) from Brazil - Was supposed to modernize Aurá landfill in 2012 and prevented access to waste pickers, but contract was canceled due to irregularities.
Revita Engenharia S.A. from Brazil - Concession holder of Marituba landfill
Guamá Resíduos Sólidos from Brazil - Managing Marituba landfill
Vega Valorização de Resíduos from Brazil - Involved in Marituba landfill
Solvi Participações from Brazil - Involved in Marituba landfill
Relevant government actors:Municipal governments of Belém, Ananindeua and Marituba
State government
Ministério Público Pará (MPPA; Public Prosecutor’s Office of Pará)
Environmental Attorney
Centro de Apoio Operacional do Meio Ambiente do Ministério Público (CAOMA)
International and Finance Institutions Nordic Environment Finance Corporation from Norway - Participates in the Aurá Landfill Gas Project
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação dos Catadores do Aurá (ASCA)
Associação de Catadores da Coleta Seletiva de Belém (ACCSB)
Movimento Nacional dos Catadores de Recicláveis (MNCR; National Movement of the Pickers of Recyclable Materia)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Wastepickers, recyclers
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil erosion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Fires, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Institutional changes
Project temporarily suspended
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Withdrawal of company/investment
Negotiated alternative solution
Development of alternatives:Researcher André Farias was among those to reject Belém’s plans to reopen the Aurá site for waste disposal, calling it an environmental crime and incompatible with Brazil’s solid waste management plan and environmental licensing process. Instead, the only way out of the waste crisis would be to set measures to drastically improve the selective collection of waste in the metropolitan area, avoid privatization of waste management, and initiate a transparent process to find a new site, as indeed both the Aurá and Marituba area should remain closed and be remediated. [28]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The experiences of the Aurá and Marituba landfills show a series of political failures in waste management, which has caused environmental pollution for decades and thereby particularly affected the local population. People who depend on waste-picking remain amongst the most disadvantaged and face an ongoing struggle for social rights and dignity.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries


[1] Fonseca, J. (2017): Aviliação do fechamento do lixão do Aurá do município de Belém/PA. Congresso ABES, Fenasan 2017.

[6] Soares, C.; Conceição, L. (2012): Problemas causados pelo Lixão do Aurá. VII Connepo, Palmas, 2012.

[5b] IPEA (2013): Situação Social das Catadoras e dos Catadores de Material Reciclável e Reutilizável. Brasília.

[7] Imbira, B.; Rebeka, J.; de Sousa, R.; Cattanio, J.; Louzada do Couto, L.; Mitschein, T. (2018): Estimates of Methane Emissions and Comparison with Gas Mass Burned in CDM Action in a Large Landfill in Eastern Amazon.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3] MNCR (2014): Catadores do lixão do Aurá lutam por trabalho e cidadania. 20.05.2014. Online, last accessed 20.08.2019.

[4] Furtado, A. (2014): Lixão do Aurá: Fim do segundo maior lixão do país. Blog de Adrielson Furtado, 09.03.2014. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[13] Blog Folha do Aurá (2014): Os catadores do Aurá pedem SOCORRO! APOIO E SOLIDARIEDADE do povo de Belém. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[6] Soares, C.; Conceição, L. (2012): Problemas causados pelo Lixão do Aurá. VII Connepo, Palmas, 2012.

[9] Ecodebate (2012): Belém/PA: Chorume do lixão do Aurá ameaça lençol freático. 11.09.2012. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[10] Machado, I. (2010): Lixão do Aurá estaria poluindo reservatórios. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[14] Diário do Pará (2019): Lixão do Aurá ainda recebe resíduos. 13.07.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[11] UFPA (2017): Estudos revelam que a emissão de gás metano no Lixão do Aurá é equivalente a queima de 34 mil hectares de floresta. 05.12.2017. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[17] Vilar, L. (2016): UFPA lança site dos catadores de materiais recicláveis da região metropolitana de Belém. 01.09.2016. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[19] Bitencourt, A. (2014): Catadores protestam contra fechamento do lixão do Aurá. Blog Folha do Aurá, 22.01.2014. Online, last accessed 20.08.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[20] O Libral (2019): Manifestantes fazem caminhada e prometem acampar em frente ao local. 31.05.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[22] Conexão AMZ - O Liberal (2019): A volta do lixão do Aurá. 30.05.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[23] Diario Online (2015): Lixão do Aurá: o problema permanece. 29.09.2015. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[16] Globo G1 (2015): Catadores continuam recolhendo lixo no Aurá, na Grande Belém. 31.07.2015. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[24] Globo G1 (2019): Instituto Evandro Chagas presencia despejo de resíduos e presença de catadores em lixão desativado no PA. 12.07.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[30] TJPA (2019): Perícia definirá valor de tratamento do lixo. 27.08.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[26] Globo G1 (2018): Promotoria ajuíza nova ação contra as empresas do aterro sanitário de Marituba. 16.01.2018. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[29] O Liberal (2019): Célula de tratamento de lixo será criada no Aurá. 02.08.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[2] Roda do Lixo (2013): O "lixão do Aurá" e e suas consequências. Blog Roda do Lixo, 28.06.2013. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[5a] Tropico em Movimento (2018): Os catadores de resíduos sólidos do Aurá e as perspectivas para a categoria. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[28] Dias, J. (2019): Pesquisador diz que retomada do lixão do Aurá traria problemas graves. O Liberal, 01.06.2019. Online, last accessed 27.08.2019.

[7] Imbira, B.; Rebeka, J.; de Sousa, R.; Cattanio, J.; Louzada do Couto, L.; Mitschein, T. (2018): Estimates of Methane Emissions and Comparison with Gas Mass Burned in CDM Action in a Large Landfill in Eastern Amazon.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

MNCR - Demonstration 2014

Lixão do Aurá: A crise humanitária

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update25/09/2019



Protests by the local waste picker movement and the MNCR in 2014


Waste in Aurá affects local water reservoirs

(Source: Blog rota do lixo)

Aurá dump


Aurá has been used by more than 1,800 waste pickers


Catadores demanding indemnities at a demonstration in 2014

(Diario Online; Source: Blog Adrielson Furtado)

Protests of Aurá's waste pickers in 2013

(Source: Blog rota do lixo)

Catadores blocking access to the Aurá dump

(Ary Sousa; Source: O Liberal)

Demonstrations in front of dump entrance

(Ary Souza; Source: O Liberal)

Catadores blocking dump entrance

(Ary Souza; Source: O Liberal)

Protest of residents in Marituba against the alternative landfill

(Leonan Felipe)

Aurá in 2019

(Mauro Angelo; Source: Diário do Pará)

A leader of the Aurá waste picker association meeting with Dilma Rousseff in 2014

(Source: Blog Folha do Aurá)

Waste pickers blockading the BR-316

(Augusto Bitencourt; Source: Blog Folha Do Aurá)