Recycling still has a lot of growing to do in Brazil. Of the 5,560 Brazilian municipalities, only 327 have selective collection programs. Not that many. But compared to ten years ago, there was some progress.
In 1994, there were only 81 programs. Still, of the 140,000 daily tons of garbage generated in Brazil, 50% is sent to dumps. Nevertheless, garbage has become a business. It is healthy not only for the environment, but also for the economy.
In 2005, the sector generated 7 billion reais (US$ 3 billion) in revenue. It generates 500,000 jobs for garbage collectors, not to mention 50,000 employees in the recycling industry.
Such a picture places the country among the first in the ranking of recyclers. According to André Vilhena, executive director of the Brazilian Business Commitment for Recycling (Cempre), an organization comprised of companies that recycle and support initiatives in the area, Brazil ranks among the world’s ten largest paper and cardboard recycling countries.
Aluminum cans are the most recycled of all materials. In 2005, Brazil broke the world record in recycling of aluminum cans for beverage, for the fifth year in a row.
The country recycled 96.2% of all discarded material, according to the Brazilian Aluminum Association (Abal). The purchase of cans injects 450 million reais per year into the country’s economy. Approximately 9.4 billion cans are recycled per year, or 26 million cans a day.
If there is demand for garbage, it is because companies are reusing material for production. Presently, the steel industry, for instance, uses 26% of scrap steel in the production of new steel. On average, aluminum cans return to the factory 30 days after leaving it.
The cans are fully recycled, and the process saves 95% of the electric power needed to produce the metal from bauxite. The volume of energy saved in 2004 is enough to provide for a city with over a million inhabitants.
PET packaging was the most recycled item in later years. In part, this is due to the fact that consumption of PET-packaged products has increased. On the other hand, new technologies were created for the process of material recycling.
Recycled PET bottles can be used to make everything from polyester clothing to pipes used in civil construction," claims Luciana Pellegrino, executive director of the Brazilian Association of Packaging (ABRE).
A few years ago, the Brazilian industry realized there were customers willing to consume products made of recycled garbage. One of the pioneers was pulp and paper company Suzano. In 2001, the company launched Reciclato, a paper made with the shavings (leftovers) generated at the company itself, as well as shavings sold by cooperatives.
In the beginning, there were only 150 cooperative members involved. Presently, there are 3,700. Before Reciclato, those willing to purchase recycled paper would either buy the imported or the handmade products. These were rare and expensive. In other words, there was a demand, but no industrial-scale producers.
In order to improve the quality of recycled products, companies began investing on technology as well. The Brazilian subsidiary of Tetra Pak, for instance, developed a technique for separating the materials contained in long-life packaging.
First off, they managed to separate cardboard from the plastic/aluminum aggregate – together, they were still reused for making tiles for popular housing. Afterwards, they developed an even more sophisticated process that separates the three materials, cardboard, aluminum and plastic, so each material can be reused as if it were new.
For Luciana, of ABRE, Brazil has already taken the most important step: creating a culture of recycling.
"Environmental education is already taught in schools, and there is a new generation that thinks differently, and even educates its parents at home," says the executive director of ABRE.
"All of this is part of a new culture of citizenship." Which, as anyone can plainly see, only tends to grow.
Anba – www.anba.com.br