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9,118 words

Silvio Eduardo Alvarez Candido
Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil

The purpose of the paper is to analyze the emergence of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) recycling
industry in Brazil in order to explore the importance of the interconnection of fields in economic and
organizational sociology. There are significant differences in the way fields are conceptualized and
operated by different scholars. Dominant views of sociological institutionalism consider organizational
fields as meso-level orders, a fixed unit of analysis that is the locus of institutionalization. In this case,
the scope of fields tend to be defined broadly, being composed by all actors considered relevant for the
analysis, and the relation with other fields is usually neglected. Other sociologists, as Bourdieu and
Fligstein, conceive fields in a more general way, associating these spaces with the process of
differentiation of modern society that tends to forge the emergence of circumscribed spheres of action.
They also tend to define the scope of fields in a more focused way and take the interconnection of
different social spaces in consideration in their analysis. The case in which we concentrate illustrates
that the adoption of this latter conception for field analysis provides a more precise account of the
dynamics of markets. Based on primary and secondary data, we situate the emergence of the PET
recycling industry in Brazil identifying and analyzing how other arenas decisively influenced it. We
conclude pointing that taking interfield connections into account may help us to advance in the
understanding of the dynamics of stability and change in organizations and markets and to better
explore the potential of this approach to integrate several levels of analysis.
KEY WORDS: Fields, Institutions, Recycling, Economic Sociology, Organizational Sociology.

Organizational and Economic Sociology have been privileged arenas for the debate about the
construction of social order. Among the different understandings about the economic realm and society
itself, some scholars have been using the concept of field to make sense about what happens in markets
(FOURCADE, 2007). Much like its use in the physical sciences, in which the concept was constructed to
deal with situation in which the transmission of forces occur without mechanical contact (MARTIN,
2003), social scientists use it to assess situations in which action is constrained by shared identities,
meanings and regulative, normative and cognitive rules defined in circumscribed arenas.
But there are significant differences in the way fields are conceptualized and operated by
different scholars. For most authors identified with the sociological institutionalism in organizational
analysis (e.g.: DIMAGGIO and POWELL, 1983; WOOTEN and HOFFMAN, 2008), organizational fields are a
unity of analysis, a circumscribed arena composed by all relevant actors and that is the locus of
institutionalization. With their contribution to the organization studies, these scholars proposed a
change in the focus of analysis from the organization to these meso-level social orders and proposed an
alternative view to other approaches that emphasized the organizational environment, as resource
dependence theory (PFEFFER and SALANCIK, 1978) and organizational ecology (CARROL and HANNAN,
2000). The approach also rejected the emphasis on rationality and efficiency from the management
mainstream, emphasizing the importance of taken for granted beliefs and legitimacy to understand
Since its emergence, this approach has been criticized by the excessive focus on stability and the
related fact that power was too peripheral to the analysis. In order to deal with this problem, many
authors have been working in new forms to deal systematically with agency and power. Some important
advances have been promoted by scholars engaged to understand the role of institutional
entrepreneurs (BATTILANA, LECA and BOXENBAUM, 2009) or institutional work (LAWRENCE, SUDABBY
and LECA, 2011), to integrate institutional perspective with social movement theory (SCHNEIBERG and
LOUNSBURY, 2008; DAVIS et al, 2005) and to address the co-existence and integration of different and
potentially contradictory institutional logics of society into organizational fields (FRIEDLAND and
ALFORD, 1991; THRONTON and OCASIO, 2008).
As much as we agree with these arguments, we believe they may get more integrated and
consistent if scholars of the sociological institutionalism take the idea of fields more seriously, reframing
the way it is understood and put to work. The idea of field goes way beyond a level of analysis in the
hands of other sociologists as Bourdieu (2005, 2001). In his approach, fields deal with a very general
dynamic of modern society, which is formed by specific and overlapping spheres of action, in a spatial
conception of social structure. He also considered that the concept should be used as cognitive
instrument for analysis and should not be over theorized in order to keep flexible and not fall into the
scholastic trap. He was very engaged to prove its general validity and used it in several empirical
studies and about diverse fields of French society.
Bourdieus idea of field could be applied to several instances of analyses and used to integrate
them, helping to overcome the micro-macro dualism of sociology (EMIRBAYER and JOHNSON, 2008). In
his essay about the economic field (BOURDIEU, 2005), for example, he suggests an organization may be
seen as a field inserted in another field - the economic sector it belongs to. He also considered the
relation between different fields, which could be more or less autonomous and involved the existence of
homologies. His description of markets as the encounter of two fields, the one of the producers and the
one of the consumers, with agents with homologous positions tending to have affinity, is a great
example of his view of the relation between fields. In his analysis, changes in one field were often
associated with changes happening out of it. Especially important were the exchanges happening within
the field of power and with State fields.
More recently, Fligstein and McAdam (2011, 2012), based in a very similar conception of field,
developed their theory of strategic action emphasizing the importance to consider the relation among
fields. For these authors, institutional scholars tend to be fieldcentric, defining these spaces way too
broadly and leaving the relation between different arenas behind. In their approach, fields are like
Russian dolls and one sphere usually belongs to others. Fields may also be more or less
interdependent from others and keep more or less hierarchical relations, depending on the asymmetry
of power between the spaces. Authors also posit that the interference of close fields tends to be higher
in their emergence and when they are in crises, since in these situations the identities, meanings and
rules structuring fields are at stake.
In order explore the importance of interfield relations to economic and organizational sociology,
we analyze the case of the emergence of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) recycling in Brazil. The case is
adequate to reveal these interconnections since it deals with the emergence of an industry and involves
considerable power asymmetries. Our assessment is based in secondary and primary data collected for a
broader PhD research that aims to make sense of the emergence of this industry in Brazil. It is also part
of a broader research agenda to make sense of how environmentalism has been transforming the
economic realm.
The paper is divided in three main sections. Firstly we briefly describe the emergence and
configuration of PET recycling industry in Brazil. Than we situate the emergence of this field, identifying
and describing relevant nearby fields. Finally we analyze the influence of the interconnected fields in the
emergence of the recycling industry.

The reprocessing of recovered resources into new manufactured products is a common practice
since the origins of some industries, as the metallurgic, aluminum, textile and paper producers. In some
cases this practice was associated with its material advantages, since they reduced the cost of the
production process. In others, they served to deal with situations of scarcity of raw materials, as in the
World Wars, when mass campaigns mobilized citizens to donate scrap materials to supply industry
(KIMBLE, 2007). To make the use of the recovered materials possible, in some cases it was necessary to
develop specific technological solutions.
Within the last 50 years, modern human societies have been through a rapid transformation of the
general meaning that shapes their relation to the natural environment. Scholars still look for answers to
understand how this process actually occurred. Some associate the creation of this international
environmental regime as a consequence of the accumulation of knowledge in natural sciences about
ecological systems and the interference of human activity in it and of the incorporation of this topic in
the multilateral organizations agenda (MEYER et al, 1997). Others emphasize that the mobilization of
environmental movements have been challenging established order and slowly transforming it (ROOTES,
2004; CARMICHAEL et al, 2012). Apart from the debate, what is important for the paper presented here
is that environmental criticism has been generating significant change in macroinstitutions of societies
and displacing capitalism (BOLTANSKY and CHIAPELLO, 2009).
In this context, the meaning of the practice of reprocessing used materials changed drastically.
Recycling started to be seen as a more appropriated solution to manage the garbage generated by
societies as whole, saving energy and materials and reducing the impacts of human activity in the
natural environment. Instead of the strictly material motivation of economic actors, recycling started to
be seen as a desired and legitimate practice by society. This institutional change affects the orders of
specific market spheres in diverse ways, generating new senses of opportunity or treat for economic
actors. In the specific case of PET recycling, the change in the meaning of recuperation practices
stimulated entrepreneurial activity.
Lounsbury, Ventresca and Hirsch (2003) traces the defense of recycling as environmentally sound
practice in the United States to environmental movement organizations of the late 1960s. Their study
shows that recycling was initially adopted by organizations engaged in a structural critic to capitalism
and consumerism who wanted to establish it as a nonprofit sector. This model end up marginalized as a
Waste-to-Energy Industry proliferated and, by the end of the 1980s, with the mobilization of anti-
incineration movements, recycling expanded based in a for-profit model. Ironically, practices
institutionalized via engagement of anti-capitalist social movements favored the development of a
profitable economic sector.
Within the last twenty years recycling diffused in Brazil generating the reorganization of some
sectors in which the recovery had already been happening and the emergence of new fields. In cases like
the metallurgic, paper and aluminum industries, which traditionally recovered materials because of the
economic gains associated, the rates of recycling improved considerably. As a result, Brazil recycles
today almost all aluminum internally commercialized, more than any other country in the world (ABAL,
In the case of PET, the recycling industry emerged as a specific field of activity, separated from the
production of the virgin resin. First companies emerged in the early 1990s and the recuperation of the
material increased rapidly, achieving 57% of all the PET commercialized in 2013, a recycling rate that
puts Brazil among the main recyclers of this material in the world (ABIPET, 2012).

Graphic 1: Evolution of the annual PET recycling rates in Brazil. Source: ABIPET (2012).
47,0 47,0
55,6 55,8
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011



PET recycling industry may be analyzed as an emergent field (FLIGSTEIN and MCADAM, 2012). This
field state is characterized for being relatively unstructured and open to agency, with the identity of
actors and meanings of practices and resources being collectively defined. They are also more open to
the influence of close fields, what makes they appropriated to understand interconnection of nearby
The field is composed by the organizations that use the recovered material as its input and
transform them via industrial process in new products to be commercialized. Companies are engaged in
the production of different kinds of products, as washed PET flakes, reprocessed granules, fiber and
diverse applications as ropes, fibers, bottles, etc. Empirical evidence shows that there is relatively high
diversity of firms and strategic focuses, what is consistent with the idea of an emergent field. The more
structured the space gets, the more alike firms should look like.
This sociological approach to market considers that the position of the firms depends not only to the
financial and technological resources they have, as economic theory supposes, but also from their
informational, organizational, social, cultural and symbolic endowments. The relative value of these
resources in an emergent field is at stake and stability is reached when some groups of actors convince
others that the resources they have are the ones that are more valuable.
Considering data gathered so far, it is possible to identify some major segments of the space. The
first is formed by firms which concentrate their operation in buying the recovered raw materials, milling
and washing it. The pre-processed material is them sold to companies that will produce recycled resin
and, sometimes, applications. The informational and social connections these firms maintain with waste
industries, pickers and intermediaries are the key resources they count with. These endowments got
valued in the field, since the access to raw materials is an important bottleneck to the development of
business. On the other hand, these firms have relatively low technological, economic and cultural
There is a second group of firms that operate the process of production of the recycling resin. A
subset of these companies control resources to super wash the milled material, so that the resin
produced may be used in food packages. As in other countries, in Brazil regulation establishes strict
sanitary parameters and the technology to do it is dominated by only some companies that may supply
the demand of food companies for recyclable materials. These companies have relatively high levels of
cultural, technological and economic resources. The second subset of firms in this group do not domain
super washing process and, in general, have lower cultural and technological capital then the
The last segment identified in the industry is formed of companies that produce applications. These
are vertically integrated firms that produce diverse products for food and non food markets. The
formers commercialize their products to markets in which they are recognized as differentiated for
being made of recyclable material, as the ones of ropes, plastic wood and garments. Among these, the
two organizations participating in the textile sector are the companies with more economic resources in
the field and should be highlighted. One of them is called Unnafibras, that produces polyester fiber in
Sao Paulo since 1996, and which in 2010 received investments from Stratus, a Private Equity Fund
investing in firms with Clean Technology. The other is a subsidiary from the M&G Group - M&G Fibers -
an Italian corporation that is also the main producer of the virgin resin in Brazil. Both major firms have
access to technology, but what identifies them is their disproportionate endowment of economic
resources. There are also a few producers of recycled packs for food industry. Among them, the
companies called CPR Rio and Frompet, both associated to the Valgroup, should be highlighted as they
are the only suppliers of packs of beverage industry in the country, including Coca Cola and AMBEV as
clients (CRP, 2014; FROMPET, 2014). What identifies these companies is their access to technology and
the fact they have enough scale to supply big buyers.
The PET recycling industry is represented by two associations of corporations that may be
characterized as Internal Governance Units (FLIGSTEIN and MCADAM, 2012). The first one represents
the PET Industry as a whole and is called ABIPET (Brazilian Association of PET Industry). Today,
Unnafibras and M&G Fibers, the companies with higher economic endowments in the field, are
represented by it. Up to 2006, producers of recycled resin were also part of ABIPET, but they got
disappointed with the way association was representing the recycling sector and decided to start
another group, called ABREPET (Brazilian Association of the Environmentally Sustainable PET Chain).
Interviews revealed that most of these companies dropped ABIPET because the recycling sector was
being left behind in the articulation activities of the association. We are going to explore this point
further later.
Our main point in the paper is not to analyze in details the PET industry itself, but to show that most
fields in the economic domain may not be properly understood without considering the interrelation
with other social spaces. Markets may be analyzed as set of interconnected fields, including suppliers
and customers and other spaces with which it keeps relations of dependencies (BOURDIEU, 2005;
FLIGSTEIN, 2001). A market may be connected to many other fields and it is part of the analyst job to
understand which other spaces have enough influence to be considered.
Based on empirical evidence, we propose that PET recycling industry emerged in the intersection of
two spaces and is highly influenced by a third one. Recycling is at the same time contained in the
broader fields of PET industry and the solid waste sector. As recycling is now considered an effective
strategy to manage garbage, recycling organizations competes with other business groups, as the ones
involved with incineration, waste-to-energy, controlled landfills, and so on. On the other hand, recycling
of PET influences and is influenced by other actors of the PET industry, as the producers of virgin resin
and applications. The third space to be considered is the beverage industry, which is the main client of
PET industry and includes large multinational organizations. The impact of this powerful field is actually
mediated by a subfield of PET industry, which is the packaging industry. But as in our view this industry
is highly subordinated to the beverage sector, we are going to simplify the analyses and skip it. There are
also other potentially influent fields that could be included in the scope of this investigation, as the
financial field. But their direct influence so far is still restrict in recycling industry and we believe leaving
it aside will not impede us to make our point.
The State will obviously be considered here a field with relatively high capacity to influence all other
fields. As Bourdieu put it, in modern societies the State is a field that has the legitimate monopoly to
exert physical and symbolic violence over all social spaces (BOURDIEU, 2010). Also Fligstein (1991) and
Bourdieu (2001) showed, it is not possible to understand the transformation of economic sectors
without making sense of the relations it develops with the State, which has the claim to define or
influence the rules for legitimate economic action. The case discussed here is not an exception and
illustrates the State influences not only to PET recycling but also all other interconnected fields

PET Industry
The PET industry gathers corporations, other non State and State actors involved in the
production of the resin of polyester and its applications. Its origins remote to the mid of the 20

century, when PET was developed as a substitute to cotton and had its first applications in the textile
sector. By the 1970s it started being used for the production of packs and in 1978 Coca Cola Company
used it in bottle for beverages, the main application of PET today (ABIQUIM, 2004). PET got to Brazil in
1988, being also first applied in the textile industry. Bottles and other packs started being produced in
1992, with the French Rhodia-Ster and the Brazilian Braskem getting established as the two major
producers in the country (GOMES et al, 2005). In 2002 Rhodia-Ster was acquired by the Italian M&G
Group, which became the second biggest producer of PET in the world, and in 2007 Braskem interrupted
production. To defeat the concentration of the sector in Brazil, recently Petrobras (Brazilian Petroleum,
controlled by the State) announced the start of a new plant to produce the virgin resin in the country
that started its operation in 2013. Petrobras will also produce purified terephthalic acid (PTA), the main
raw material for PET production, which was imported up to date.
As a subfield of petrol industry, the legitimacy of the sector has been strongly affected all over
the world by the emergence of environmentalism. Hoffman (1999) showed that the chemical industry in
general started to be strongly pressured by environmental activists and governments in the United
States in the 1970s. The pressure forced firms to adopt new practices that were incorporated first as
regulative, than as normative and, more recently, as cognitive institutions of the field. The work of Levy
and Kolk (2009) also make evident how much dominant companies of the oil industry have been
strongly pressured and forced to adapt all around the world because of the specific issue of Climate
In Brazil, companies of the sector act together with others of plastic industries against threats
and to promote the use of plastics. One of the most active organizations is an association called
Plastivida (Socio-Environmental Institute of Plastics), which gathers major companies, including Braskem
and Petrobras. The groups mission is to divulgate the importance of plastics to modern life and to
promote its environmentally correct usage (PLASTIVIDA, 2013) and it has been furiously defeating
emerging regulation to restrict the usage of plastic bags, PET bottles and other plastic materials in the
name of sustainability.
Besides the advocacy of the sector, a whole new subfield emerged in PET industry as a response
to environmentalism. This subfield is also part of the emergent space of renewable chemicals formed by
research and development companies highly engaged in the creation of MEG (Mono-ethylene glycol)
and PTA, the main ingredients for PET production, out of renewable sources. All major companies of PET
industry are engaged in initiatives to develop and produce varieties of green plastic. The M&G Group,
for example, recently announced the investment on a plant large scale plant for the production of
bioMEG in China. In 2012, , the Indian JBF announced the installation of a plant to produce bioMEG in
Brazil in partnership with Coca Cola. The green PTA was also developed and first applied in the Pepsi
Cola bottle and other technologies for producing green PET are emerging. If this happens, the PET field
will gradually become autonomous in relation to petrochemical industry. Other relevant initiatives to
reduce the weight of volume of the bottles are in course, as crushable PET bottles applied recently to
bottled water produced by Coca Cola in Brazil.
It is important to notice that these transformations of the PET field are mediated by the
competition with other industries within the packaging sector. The production of glass bottles are an
obvious alternative to PET in a context where being seen as more sustainable is ever more important. In
this direction, for example, big beverage companies as Coca Cola and AMBEV that have been
reactivating the use of glass bottles to specific market segments what represents a threat to PET
Beverage Industry
The beverage industry includes the main clients of the PET packaging industry, consuming
around 75% of all its production (ABIQUIM, 2004). In Brazil it includes huge companies as Coca Cola,
AMBEV, PespiCo, Schincariol, Nestl and Batavo, being largely dominated by these companies. They
started using PET bottles in Brazil from 1992 and were rapidly imitated by every company in the market.
The arrival of PET bottles in the country followed a worldwide tendency started some years later, in
1970s, when Pepsi and Coca Cola started spreading them all over.
One important characteristic of this field is that the major companies that dominate it operate
in relatively stable mass consumer markets and have their trademark and their image as a major asset,
investing thousands of millions a year in propaganda. Coca Colas trademark, for example, was
considered by many analysts as the most valuable in the world during the whole last decade
(INTERBRAND, 2013). In general, the image of these companies is very valuable and they consider
environmentalism and other movements as a seriously factor of risk. So when something like the
exhibition of plastic artist Eduardo Srur, who installed huge PET bottles by the Tiete River in Sao Paulo in
2008 symbolizing the pollution of the river, happens it is probably really painful for these companies.
To react to the increasing critics to their packs, corporations have been engaged in several
strategies to greening it. One of them is pushing forward the establishment of the renewable plastics
field. Coca Cola, for example, got involved in the development of a global supply chain of green PET
produced of the Brazilian Sugar Cane, launched its Plant Bottle made of bioMEG in Brazil by 2010.
Danone did the same in a smaller scale and is now engaged with Coca Cola in developing a completely
renewable bottle aggregating new technological improvements (AVANTIUM, 2014). In 2011 PepsiCo
launched a PET bottle completely made of agricultural sub products from their own food units (PEPSICO,
2011). Nestl also have been engaged in research and development to get to a greener bottle (NESTL
WATERS, 2014).
Besides companies have been developing initiatives to expand the use of glass, there is no
evidence that PET will be left behind in the short term and recycling is their key bet to address the
extended producer responsibility regulation and agreements they have been signing in central
capitalist countries (GMA, 2012). As we are going to explore latter, recycling is also a major form of
justification of the use of PET by these companies, which have been promoting the structuring of this
market in Brazil.
Solid Waste Field and the Collectors of Recyclable Materials
As mentioned before, recycling became part of the solid waste field when the already existing
practice of recuperation of the materials started to be seen as a more sustainable strategy for manage
garbage. In this section we will describe two other subfields that are considered central to understand
the emergence of PET recycling. The first one composed by State and non State organizations which
form the official arrangements to collect, transport, dispose and, more recently, recover waste. The
other is constituted by informal workers who historically made their living from the garbage.
Since the late 19
century, by the action of hygienist movements (COSTA, 2004), garbage began
to be seen as a threat to human health and since then local governments have been engaged in
strategies to deal with it. Waste started to be taken away from the cities centers by local governments
and along the 20
century, with the structuration of this public service, the field of solid waste got
established in Brazil and got increasingly rationalized (MIZIARA, 2008). By the 1970s, the activities
carried out in the administration of garbage were guided by a number of norms established by the State
and civil engineers got to be recognized as the legitimate professionals to design waste management
arrangements. In 1988, the promulgated Constitution of Brazil established solid waste management as a
basic public service and a responsibility of city governments.
Historical evidence shows that at least since the second half of the 19
century, very
disadvantaged segments of Brazilian society took their living out of the trash (MIZIARA, 2008). These
workers, known as trapeiros, carroceiros and, more recently, catadores, were part of the
landscape of Brazilian cities and many of them worked picking different materials in the streets to sell to
scrapyards and other buyers. With the emergence of the paper, metal and aluminum factories in Brazil
by the 1970s, they started to work in the collection of these new materials that were most of the time
bought by intermediaries to be sent back to industry. Also, with the structuring of solid waste
management by the State, garbage was usually taken to the peripheries of cities, where part of the
disadvantaged population lived. As a result, many families started working in the dumps to collect food
and other materials they could sell. This situation was exposed in a critical perspective in 1989 by film
maker Jorge Furtado in his Ilha das Flores (Island of Flowers). The film showed the reality of the locality
to where the waste of the city of Porto Alegre (capital of Rio Grande do Sul state) was taken.
By the 1980s, environmentalism started to change the organization of the field. The crescent
association of recycling with a strategy for solid waste management changed the identity of this workers
and the meaning of their activity. They started to be increasingly recognized as the providers of
important of environmental services and to receive more attention and support from governments, civil
society organizations as ecclesial base groups from Catholic Church, NGOs and academic groups. One
common strategy to improve their situation was the structuration of cooperatives and associations in
which workers would work collectively based on democratic forms of organization. In 1989, the first
enterprise (COOPMARE Cooperative of Autonomous Pickers of Paper, Shavings and Reusable
Materials) was created in Sao Paulo and since them cooperatives of trash pickers spread all around the
country and started being contracted by local governments to structure the collection of recyclable
materials in the cities, being incorporated into official structures of solid waste management (SNIS,
2012). Collectors counted with the support of academic groups of universities engaged in the creation of
work opportunities for excluded people based in democratic forms of work organization. These groups
defended what they labeled as Solidarity Economy and have been supported since 1995 by the federal
government as a way to promote social inclusion and defeat unemployment (FINEP, 2014; LEITE, 2002).
It is worth telling that the reduction of the bargain power of these intermediaries was one of the
motivations to the organization of cooperatives and associations of collectors. Most of the times,
industry got access to the materials via intermediaries, as the owner of scrapyards. With the increasing
demand for recovered materials from the 1980s, curious stories about the affluence of some of these
intermediaries emerged (FSP, 2013). The Brazilian soap opera called The queen of the scrap (Rainha
da Sucata), exhibited in 1990, approached the theme of the enriched families of these business. These
gains were associated with the subtle valorization of many materials and with the privileged position
they occupied in the chain and were commonly considered abusive by collectors and organizations
supporting them.
The increasing organization and recognition of the collectors of recyclable materials got them
engaged to the establishment of public policies that reassured their role in recycling and in solid waste
management. In 2001, workers created a National Social Movement Organization (National Movement
of Recyclable Material Pickers MNCR, 2014) and with the election of President Lula in 2002 and 2006
and Dilma in 2010, both from the Workers Party, they got room to advance in their agenda. The
engagement of President Lula himself with the pickers cause was noticeable and a symbol of social
involvement of the government. In every end of the year during his mandates president Lula celebrated
Christmas with workers of the National Movements. Government also got engaged to pass the National
Policy of Solid Waste in the Congress, which got approved in the last year of Lulas government after
almost twenty years the project was first proposed. The National Policy established recyclable collectors
social inclusion should be a priority of the cities in managing solid waste and the Federal Government
developed several strategies to promote this goal (PROCATADOR, 2014). The collection of recyclable
materials was also recognized by the State as a profession and a law determining the separation and
donation of recyclable materials from federal public organizations was promulgated (BRAZIL, 2006).
During the 1990s governments and companies of solid waste engineering and management
also increasingly incorporated environmental aspects to their field of activity. An evidence of
environmentalism in the field is the emergence of Environmental Engineers as legitimate professionals
of the field (ANEAM, 2014). The increasing demand for sustainable strategies to deal with garbage
stimulated innovations and demanded more investments from city governments. The National Policy of
2010 forced this process further, establishing a deadline to the extinction of all dumps, to the
structuration of collection of recyclable materials in all cities, the adequate treatment and disposal of
the discarded materials, and so on.
While National Policy was really straightforward about the social inclusion of recyclable material
collectors, it opened the possibility of practices that may potentially marginalize them, as incineration
and waste-to-energy practices. Waste to energy is potentially conflicting to plastics recycling since
plastic have a high calorific potential. The permit of this practices summed up to changes in the national
context has been generating uncertainties and conflicts in the space that we are going to address latter.
Also during the 1990s, the field, which was dominated by public actors, started to be
increasingly privatized (SANCHEZ, 2001). National and International groups invested heavily in the sector
that today is dominated by private companies represented by two associations: Brazilian Association of
Companies of Public Cleaning and Special Residues (ABRELPE) and the Brazilian Association of
Companies of Waste Treatment (ABETRE). The juridical base for the establishment of contracts of these
companies with city government was the law of concessions, which was approved in 1994. But while the
investment capacities of cities decreased from the 1990s, the pressure to expand and improve
environmental quality of solid management increased. As a result, from 2004, many cities started
establishing public-private partnerships with solid waste management companies. Differently from the
concessions, this juridical modality permits the raising of funds for public investments with private
investors. It also permits private solid waste companies to get revenues during the contracts other than
the payments from the State.
Also, as a result of the raise in the expectations of growth of the sector, with the approval of
National Policy and the possibility to establish public-private partnerships, big national and international
business groups invaded the market. Particularly impressive is the entrance of dominant national groups
of construction industry in the sector, as Odebrecht, Queiroz Galvo and Camargo Corra. These
entrants and also the established dominant companies started to invest in the implementation of
Waste-to-Energy systems, which have been spreading over many cities in the country. The revenues
obtained with the commercialization of the generated industry would them be appropriated by the
firms who would also reduce their investments in landfills, making the partnership viable.
During the discussions of the National Policy of Solid Waste and responding to the lobby of
Incineration Industry, which worked hard to include this practice in the law, the National Movement of
Recycling Collectors articulated a Coalition Against Incineration in 2009 (INCINERAO NO, 2013). The
coalition was defeated during the discussion of the law, but continued to work and confront the
establishment of public-private partnerships and the implementation of waste-to-energy systems by city
governments. While pickers where asking governments to not get their source of income burned,
defenders of incineration and the companies themselves justified the use of this technology saying it
was a very common practice in developed countries and that Brazil should modernize and adopt it too.
Because the law is explicit about the inclusion of the pickers and establishes recycling as a priority, many
of the public-private partnerships in the field have been accused by public ministry to be illegal and
there are juridical disputes over it going on all over the country (PPP Brasil, 2014).

The short description of these fields nearby recycling industry suggests the existence of
interdependencies that we want to explore further in this section. As mentioned before, our analysis
considers that the PET recycling industry emerges in between two other fields highly impacted by
environmentalism. As Fligstein and McAdam (2012) propose, fields may be like Russian dolls being
composed by other relatively autonomous spaces. Empirical evidence suggests that PET recycling may
be seen as an emerging field contained simultaneously in two other fields: PET Industry and the Solid
Waste Management.
In an emergent field, the meanings and identities of actors and their actions, as well as the rules
that structure the social space are still fluid and at stake. These agreements are not created in vacuum,
but based in the institutions of other fields. The links between fields may also be shaped by factors as
resource dependences, mutual benefit relations, sharing of power, information flows and legitimacy
(FLIGSTEIN and MCADAM, 2012, p.59).
The emerging conceptions and understandings of PET recycling are highly influenced by the
transformations going on in the adjacent fields as a result of the influence of environmentalism.
Recycling is at the same time part of PET industry and the emergence of environmentalism also made it
part of the solid waste space. Environmental issues of the field of beverage industry, the main client of
PET industry, also influenced significantly the configuration of PET recycling.
Interestingly the producers of virgin PET keep a paradoxal relation with the producers of the
recycled material. For PET industry, recycling is an important part of the argument to justify the use the
plastic and dealing with the critics of environmentalists, contributing to legitimate it. On the other hand,
the producers of recycled resin are also competitors that should be taken increasingly seriously by the
producers of the virgin resin, considering the recent growth of the sector. As the PET produced from
renewable sources is also recyclable, the emerging industry engaged in producing it should keep a very
similar relation to the recycling field than the one established today.
Interviews carried out showed that this was the reason why many recycling companies left
ABIPET to start ABREPET in 2006. They felt that the association was dominated by the producers of
virgin materials and that all important political articulations conduced were of their interest and the
promotion of recycling was completely secondary in the agenda. Nevertheless recycling was invoked all
the time to promote the business and to defend from environmentalist attacks. So when recyclers got
organized and formed their own internal governance unit ABREPET one of the main focus and
political argument used to promote the sector was to point to the fact that the virgin producers had
subsidies and recycling industry not as a contradiction (ABREPET, 2014).
But recycling is also understood as part of solid waste field and it keeps clear relations of
dependence with it. The industry keeps relations of material and also symbolic dependence with the
subfield of recyclable waste collectors. The activity of thousands of these workers assures the
recuperation of recyclable materials and their destination to the industries, what evidences the
embeddedness of this market in broader social structures. Pickers are engaged in recovering the
leftovers of mass consumer markets and are obviously not specialized in a single material, collecting
whatever has a value. So when new recycling sectors appears and the demands for new materials arise,
prices are established and the workers start to recover it.
Interviews and secondary data expose some of the problems faced today by the PET industry to
access the recovered materials. Many companies point to the access to it as one of the main challenges
to the expansion of the industry. To deal with the scarcity of materials, some companies have been
exporting bottles from other countries, especially the ones from South America. The implementation of
National Policy of Solid Waste should have a positive impact on this situation. According to data from
CEMPRE (2012), between 2010 and 2012, the number of cities with structured collection of recyclable
materials raised from 443 to 776, achieving 14% of the total number of municipalities in Brazil.
Industry clearly has symbolic and political benefits from the involvement of the pickers in the
chain. In general, recycling in Brazil is not only associated with something good to the environment, but
also as something that promotes social inclusion. This frame opens important political opportunities,
especially while Federal Government is dominated by the Workers Party, providing entrepreneurs with
strong arguments to demand State incentives and to develop strategic partnerships.
The relation between recycling and the emerging subfield of waste-to-energy and incineration
companies is still ambiguous. The National Policy allows waste-to-energy practices if the viability of the
practices is proved and with the condition that companies monitor the emissions of toxic gases (BRAZIL,
2010). With more and more companies offering the waste-to-energy services and the diffusion of public-
private partnerships, there is a huge tendency of growth in this segment. Theoretically, if companies
attend to the hierarchy established in the regulation, they should incinerate any recyclable materials.
But in practice, the mechanisms of control are not clear and we may not ensure that companies will
leave recyclable materials with high calorific potential as PET away. If these materials get incinerated the
collectors and the recycling sector should be really damaged by the emergence of this segment.
It is interesting to notice that the collectors social movement organizations have been
mobilized against the growth of waste-to-energy practices, already seen as a threat to them. The
recycling industry actors are more ambivalent about it, and are not mobilized to oppose these practices.
If incineration become damaging to recycling, them the industry will be benefiting from the pickers
mobilization against it.
Another interconnection of the recycling industry field we want to explore is the one with the
field of beverage industry. Because of the resource endowments of dominating firms in this market, this
is a very influential space that has direct and indirect relation with recycling industry. It is also important
to notice that companies of this field are playing a game themselves and their influence in
interconnected fields is more of a collateral effect of the identities, meanings and rules they manipulate
in this process.
In Brazil, all main beverage companies created, in 1992, CEMPRE (Enterprise Commitment to
Recycling), an association engaged to promote recycling in the country headed by Coca Cola Company
since its foundation. The association is today one of the main references in recycling in Brazil,
monitoring annually the rates of recuperation of several materials and the implementation of recyclable
waste collection by city governments and actively participating in the construction of public policy in
several instances of this sector. As its image is hardly associated to the companies that fund and manage
it, the organization looks materially uninterested, being considered by many as a NGO.
CEMPRE has been strongly involved in the development of public policy in several instances,
being one of the main articulators of the sector agreements of the packaging industry regulating the
National Policy of Solid Waste. The organization also supports and promotes the Brazilian model of
recycling with social inclusion and enthusiastically in divulgating to other countries of the World
(CEMPRE, 2011).
The engagement of companies as Coca Cola, AMBEV, Pepsi, Nestl and Batavo in pushing the
adoption of recycled plastics forward has an important direct impact in the field. Until 2008 the
application of recycled PET was restricted to non food packs by the National Agency of Sanitary Control
(ANVISA). In this year, however, ANVISA announced a new rule allowing the usage of recycled PET for
bottles and other packages used in the food industry under certain conditions. The new regulation was
based in the one of the United States, where this practice was not objected since 1992. With the
allowance, beverage companies disputed which would launch recycled bottles in the Brazilian market
first, a dispute that was won by AMBEV (EXAME, 2012). Companies also established goals to have nearly
one 100% percent of their bottles produced out of the recycled PET in the next years, creating great
perspectives to the recycling business. This disposition of the beverage companies to adopt bottles
made of the recycled PET, which is obviously positive for their individual image and the legitimacy of the
sector as a whole, generate a huge increase in the demand of this material stimulating the growth of the
recycling industry.
One last important point about the beverage industry that should not be left behind is the
capacity of the companies to promote recycling as a desirable social practice in a massive way. Since the
corporations invest millions in recycling, they have a considerable capacity to influence the social
imaginary of society about recycling, promoting it automatically when they promote their business.
The case discussed illustrated how the State influences decisively all interconnected fields. The
main channel of articulation of the particular fields with the State were the association representing
actors of the different fields, as ABRELPE, ABIPET, ABRELPE, CEMPRE, Plastivida and other internal
governance structures usually controlled by dominant actors of each field.
There is one recent direct connection from PET industry to the State that is worth mention. It
was the result of a mobilization process promoted by ABREPET that resulted in the creation of the
Parliamentary Front for Recycling in the National Congress in 2012. The group was created by the a
congressman from Rio de Janeiro (Adrian Ramos PMDB-RJ) in order to attend demands presented by
ABREPET and engaged almost 200 members of the National Congress to propose new rules to promote
the strengthen of the sector, including financial subsidies and incentives for the industry (FPICPR, 2014).
One specific point being discussed is the elimination of tributes issued over industrialized products to be
recycled. The argument used by recyclers is that this tax was already paid by the producers of virgin
materials and that the industry should not pay again because it is providing an important service to

While the idea of organizational fields, now widely spread in organizational analysis, is really
useful to understand organizations as social constructions and a great alternative to competing
approaches based in the idea of organizational environment, the restriction of its application to the inter
organizational level is limited. As the arena is often rigidly and broadly defined as including all relevant
actors for the analysis, it usually does not consider the integration of fields. While scholars engaged in
developing the institutional logics perspectives have been bringing important contributions to
understand how the interrelation of fields happens, their understanding of fields is still much linked to
the dominant one in organizational institutionalism. Our goal with the paper was to illustrate that
understanding the concept in a broader way, closer to the one proposed by Bourdieu and reformed by
Fligstein and McAdam, would really help to integrate the contributions and create a more flexible
cognitive instrument for analysis.
Considering these interconnections is particularly important when we apply field analysis to the
economic realm, since markets are ever more integrated. It also raises the complexity of the analysis,
since we have to consider how much the field we are focusing on may be influenced by other spaces
with their specific institutions, resources and disputes. These other spaces may be of higher order, as
the fields of solid waste and PET industry, in our case, or may be in similar level, as with the space of
beverage industry. If fields are heteronomous, the internal disputes of the field may depend on the
external relations with other fields and vice versa, depending on the power asymmetry existing between
This approach to fields also makes the construction of bridges among several levels of analysis
possible. Studies focusing on the higher order arenas could address the configuration of the
environmental field and understand if we are beyond the emergence of a new core institution
(FRIEDLAND and ALFORD, 1991) or a new city (BOLTANSKI and CHIAPELLO, 2009) in modern society.
Complementary to these efforts are studies like the one we just presented, focused in lower order social
orders and aiming to make sense of specific cases and contributing to the construction of the general
picture bottom up.

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