Although informal waste collectors are sometimes organized in cooperatives, their working conditions remain extremely precarious and unsafe. The paper discusses the findings of action oriented, participatory qualitative research with several recycling groups in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil. During workshops with the recyclers mapping, acting, and drawing methods helped reveal health hazards from collection, separation and transportation of recyclable materials. Major health problems relate to chemical and biological hazards, musculoskeletal damage, mechanical trauma and poor emotional wellbeing. The recent federal legislation on solid waste management opens new avenues for the inclusion of recycling cooperatives in selective waste collection. Nevertheless, we express the need to consider the distinctive characteristics and vulnerabilities of recycling groups, when developing safer work environments in these social businesses. We also suggest that the workspace be ergonomically organized and that public awareness campaigns about selective waste collection are conducted regularly to increase the quality of source separation. The introduction of electric hand pushed carts can further reduce health strains. This research has produced a better understanding of the work of the recyclers and related health risks. The interactive qualitative research methodology has allowed for the co-creation and mobilization of specific knowledge on health and safety in recycling cooperatives.