study performed with garbage pickers who organized a cooperative to sort recyclable garbage in porto alegre, brazil, in a shed loaned by the city administration. this activity, which has attracted an increasing number of people excluded from the formal job market, presents peculiar health risks and patterns of disease. the study aimed to learn about the participants' concepts and self-care actions, proposing discussions and jointly reflection on their problems. it focuses on the working environment and on attitudes towards health risks. through the focal group technique with ten female subjects, the expression of capacity of situational analysis of those involved was privileged, giving rise to three main themes. each theme discussed was followed by the construction of a plan of action in order to meet compatibly the more pressing needs according to the operational feasibility of the solutions proposed.