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In addition to the Oscar nomination, the documentary won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best World Cinema Documentary and nearly two dozen other film festival awards.

Through the sale of the portraits, Muniz raised $300,000 for the association and the recyclers who worked with him. That money paid for an office, a storage shed to sort materials and management classes. Soon they had their own recycling cooperatives, and were gearing up to work in a new system in which trash will be sorted in households, and recycling plants will replace catadores.

No one, least of all the workers, disputes that their current work is dangerous and unsanitary.

They don’t earn much: 10 cents per kilogram of cardboard, 14 cents per kilogram of glass. But many hours of work and hundreds of kilos later, it’s a living. For some, it’s the only job they’ve held in lives of few opportunities and much bad luck.

In Gramacho, children learned from their parents how to differentiate materials, including 14 different types of recyclable plastic, by touch and sound so they can work into the night, when deliveries ramp up.

Sueleide Portela da Silva, 21, started working alongside her mother, who toiled at Gramacho for 25 years until she lost her eyesight to trash falling from a truck.

By 14, Silva had her first child. At 15, pregnant again, she started working at the dump, along with three of her sisters. None of them attended school beyond 4th grade.

“People are very afraid,” she said of the dump’s closure. “Most people here can’t read properly, and every job out there, they want you to have high school, college.”

Wearing denim shorts over hot pink tights, torn fishnets and boots, Silva hauls up to 680 pounds (310 kilograms) of paper a day. She specializes in printer paper. It earns her only 13 cents a kilo if clean, 11 cents if dirty, but it’s a lighter load. On a good day, she’ll take home $40.

Once the landfill closes, Gramacho’s 5,000 trash pickers and sorters will qualify for unemployment benefits and government training to work in recycling plants.

The landfill itself will also be a source of income for the workers.

The Rio city government has installed 230 wells to tap the carbon dioxide and methane gases that emanate from the rotting waste. About 1.9 million tons of carbon dioxide will be captured annually _ as much as 1.4 million gasoline-powered cars exude a year _ making it the largest greenhouse gas capturing project in Brazil and one of the largest in the world.

Sales of the gas for energy production and carbon credits are expected to generate about $244 million over 15 years. The workers will get 18 percent of that, said Gramacho manager Lucio Vianna Alves.

The money will go into a fund to be managed by the mayor of Duque de Caxias, the town where the landfill is located, in a partnership with the workers’ association.

In spite of the promised benefits, many catadores are still afraid of the day they’ll be forced out of Gramacho. After a lifetime of living at the margins, they don’t trust they’ll see any of the funds.

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