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São Paulo, Brazil Reforms Urban Waste Disposal Practices

São Paulo, Brazil Reforms Urban Waste Disposal Practices

Many people separate dry waste from organic waste, but we know little about the destination of these materials. If, indeed, they are used for recycling, isn’t it possible to also reuse organic waste? The final destination of waste is a major concern of our cities today. Most of the waste still goes to unsafe landfills,

Many people separate dry waste from organic waste, but we know little about the destination of these materials. If, indeed, they are used for recycling, isn't it possible to also reuse organic waste? The final destination of waste is a major concern of our cities today. Most of the waste still goes to unsafe landfills, which are increasingly distant and have a massive impact on the areas where they are implemented. After all, who wants to live with a landfill on the side of their home or workplace?

To get an idea of the problem, in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, we have recycling bins in 46% of households, but less than 2% of our waste is actually reused. In other words, selective collection recycling is of no use if one does not, in fact, reuse these materials. In order to increase our ability to recycle, earlier this month the city of São Paulo opened the first central mechanized sorting of recyclable waste in Latin America, called the “Ponte Pequeno” (Small Bridge). Located in the region of Bom Retiro, it has the capacity to process up to 250 tons of recyclables per day.

Recycling receptacles in Brazil.

One of the major limitations to the expansion of recycling is the accumulation of recycled material and the difficulty of transporting them for reuse, as a result of bulkiness. If it accumulates in large quantities in recycling plants, be they recycling cooperatives or companies, it also greatly limits the potential of the city to expand the capacity to recycle. However, now that separated waste can be compressed mechanically, it can reduce the volume and thus can be transported more easily.

The revenue generated by the central marketing of processed materials constitute the Municipal Fund for Selective Collection, Reverse Logistics and Inclusion of Recyclers. This fund will enable the hiring of collectors to work within the central cooperatives – for the screening of materials and operation of machines, for example - and also allow partnerships with other cooperatives, which will continue acting externally on the selective collection. The fund will be managed by a board consisting of nine members, three from civil society, three from the government and three from municipal recycling cooperatives.

By incorporating cooperative practices in the implementation of the new selective collection system, the working conditions of scavengers is expected to improve, as is an increase in their pay. From the installation of the plant, the expectation is to increase the percentage of waste recycled in São Paulo to 10% by 2016. Additionally, the city aims for all households to have selective collection recycling.

An example of how recyclables can be compressed to ease the process of transporting them to sorting facilities, São Paulo, Brazil

For the issue of waste disposal, another interesting development is the recent launch of the project Compost São Paulo, a civil society initiative, championed by the City, which initially distributed two thousand compost bins to households, better known as minhocários. These composters turn organic waste into compost and can be placed in yards, service stations, garages and even kitchens.

This is a critical initiative considering that currently 51% of the waste produced in our homes is organic waste that cannot be recycled; going straight to landfills. Increasing the scale and coverage of recycling and developing new forms of waste recycling, including organic waste, could propel São Paulo forward in tackling one of the greatest environmental challenges in urban areas today.

What recycling innovations has your city created or adopted?

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, can be found here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nora grew up surrounded by the varied architectural styles and geographies of the Southwest U.S. After graduating from Middlebury College with a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Geography, Nora moved to Wash...

  • In 1993, waste pickers and itinerant waste buyers in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad came together to form Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), a membership-based trade union.

    The union aimed to establish and assert waste pickers’ contribution to the environment, their status as workers and their crucial role in the Solid Waste Management (SWM) of the city. Today, KKPKP has 9000 plus members, 80 per cent of whom are women from socially backward and marginalised castes. Each member pays an annual fee to the organization and an equal amount towards their life insurance cover. Members are given I-cards that are endorsed by the PMC, and can avail of other benefits like interest-free loans and educational support for their children. (

    One of the most important contributions made by KKPKP, which helped make the case for granting waste pickers their rights and dues, was the quantification of waste pickers’ contribution to SWM (Case Study). This study clearly established that the recovery operations carried out by waste pickers actually saved the Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporations several crores of rupees in waste handling costs.

    KKPKP further pushed for better working conditions for the waste pickers and for the protection of rights of waste pickers through representations to the government. Most importantly, KKPKP called for the integration of waste pickers in the waste collection/disposal system, at the point of waste generation itself – that is, giving them access to waste where it is generated, whether in homes, offices or businesses. All these demands are part of various government reports and documentation. SNDT University’s Department of Adult & Continuing Education , located in Pune has played critical role in formation of waste pickers cooperative.

    #Oxfam India has been supporting this initiative especially the advocacy interventions to bring larger changes in solid waste management rules & policies in the country.

  • Thank you so much for your comment Farrukh and the fascinating information on the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) union. It is wonderful to hear about the many innovations (both environmental and in working conditions) that are taking place around the world to revolutionize the waste management industry.

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