Formalizing the informal? A perspective on informal waste management in the BRICS through the lens of institutional economics

Christian Luiz da Silva*, Niklas Weins, Maija Potinkara

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


The world population is becoming more urbanized, wealthier but also more wasteful. The resolution of the problem of ever increasing amounts of solid waste is not yet a priority in many developing countries where informal organization has managed to partially tackle the problem. In this article we explore the interface between formal and informal waste management in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The aim of this article is to comparatively evaluate the main challenges of urban solid waste management for the BRICS from an institutional point of view. Based on a literature review, interviews with experts on the BRICS and a search for relevant legislation and formal institutions, evidence of informal institutions and the informal economy's role following New Institutional Economics was considered. The results indicate that while in Brazil and South Africa there is a state incentive to formalize scavenging for more efficient outcomes, Russia shows a significant blind-spot on the issue, China apparently awaits a technological solution to the problem, and India's cultural, ethnic and caste-based divide of society make recent policies aimed at improving waste pickers’ conditions challenging to enforce. This research has shown that it is not as much an issue of enforcement of the (often recent) legislations, but rather one of cultural and informal organizational factors, that play into the issue of continued problems concerning waste management. For achieving waste management policy goals, we suggest a more open multi-stakeholder approach to the inclusion of informal organizations in public waste management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages11
JournalWaste Management
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Informal institutions
  • New institutional economics
  • Waste management


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