Brazil is top of the world on an environmental issue – recycling

January 21, 2009 3 By admin

I’m mugging up on green jobs as part of the research for a forthcoming paper on the need for a ‘global green new deal’ and came across this great and (to me) unexpected example from Brazil. It’s drawn from UNEP’s ‘Green Jobs’ paper.

Brazil is the global leader in aluminium can recycling — some 10.3 billion cans were collected in Brazil in 2006. This saves the country enough electricity to supply a city of over 1 million inhabitants for one year. Aluminium can recycling also provides jjobs for close to 170,000 people in Brazil.

The country achieved a recycling rate of 94 per cent, climbing sharply from 46 per cent in 1990. By comparison, Japan reached a rate of 91 per cent, the Scandinavian countries 88 per cent, and Western Europe as a whole about 58 per cent. Brazil also has high recycling rates for other products such as steel cans, plastic bags, tyres and waste paper – overall the recycling sector employs some 500,000 people.

The country has also pioneered ways to improve recycling jobs, which are often dirty, dangerous and poorly paid. In many developing countries, recycling work is performed by an informal network of scrap collectors, sometimes known as “waste pickers” or “scavengers”, who collect the recycled materials for revenue. Efforts to form cooperatives have raised the pay levels and standards in many countries. In Brazil, 90 per cent of recyclable material is collected by scrap collectors – ‘catadores de lixo’ or the more politically correct ‘catadores de material reciclado’ – who have organized themselves into a national cooperative movement with 500 cooperatives and 60,000 collectors in total. In 2005, Belo Horizonte, one of Brazil’s largest cities, inaugurated the first recycling plant to be run by associations of independent catadores de lixo. The plant is intended to avoid unscrupulous middlemen and provide an increase of about 30 per cent to the incomes of the collectors.

What’s great about it is a) the way Brazil has combined environmentalism with grassroots organization and b) the fact that it’s beating the Europeans and Japanese. Particularly striking given that Brazil gets so much environmentalist stick over the deforestation of the Amazon.