In this investigation, the embodied, emotional and affective dimensions of nature–society relations are analyzed through the study of the transition processes of women who collect recyclable waste that have organized themselves into formal collectives, known as cooperatives. Knowledge, corporeality, aspirations, and perceptions of the daily lives of these women are part of a universe where the relationship between society and nature is understood as a collective, a hybrid world, in which recyclable waste and the materialities of infrastructure associated are vibrant and inventive material, a fundamental part of the reconstitution of the world of these women (Whatmore, 2002; Lorimer, 2012).

In the process of collecting information (between 2018 and 2019) qualitative methodologies were used that sought to capture the experiences of women waste pickers, in the west of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Initially, a social meeting was held to present the research objectives, and volunteers were requested. Volunteer women, aged between 18 and 35, shared their daily lives after a few visits; interviews were conducted. Observation notebooks, audio records, and go-along techniques were also used to understand the existing dynamics, the socio-spatial configuration of living spaces, and the relationship between human and non-human actors.

The results of this study reveal that these women survived (dominated and invisible) for years as waste pickers of recyclable materials, without any social protection, until they made the decision to formally organize themselves, with the support of universities, the public sector, and other entities. Today, they have the means to obtain infrastructure and equipment to value the materials collected and improve working conditions – which, however, are still precarious. In fact, the buildings and environment where they perform their work are dangerous because the nature of the materials and their handling carry risks of contamination, and pollution control is reduced, yet they contain a liberating potential for these women – on the one hand, because they have become responsible for these places and equipment and, at the same time, they provide the opportunity to challenge their role in society, such as formal recognition of the profession, training to negotiate, improvement of income, achievement of social rights, deepening class solidarity relations, and building positive self-esteem; and on the other hand, because the non-human entities that they deal with are vibrant and dynamic partners in the reconstitution of their world, their atmospheres and affections. And they still constitute an arena to show the resistance of these women and the environmental crisis. These feelings are the result of unique and situated contexts that have been altered and reformulated (Valentine, 1997).

This investigation reflects on the implications of “more than human” geographies for studies on hybrid nature–society relationships (Demeritt, 2002; Braun, 2005; Hinchliffe and Whatmore, 2006) and contributes, in particular, to deepen knowledge on gender geographies in the Global South, where the fragility of formal institutions leaves women in a situation of domination and invisibility, but where women are empowered due to various factors, including those resulting from material and of the bonds between humans and non-humans.