The favela of Rocinha, in south Rio, often referred to as one of the largest in Latin America, is inaugurating its new selective collection center Rocinha Recicla (“Rocinha recycles”) today (Jun 8), featuring innovative international methodology aimed at cleaning up the environment in the region. The move aims to collect floating plastic, stopping the material from reaching the ocean through the sea of São Conrado. The center will operate at the Rocinha Sports Complex.
Edson Freitas, head of the state’s recycling association ARERJ, hailed the move as a major effort to generate employment and income “for thousands of people.” Following the pandemic of the new coronavirus and the unemployment issue, Freitas pointed out, a large number of people started picking up this type of material. From 2017 to 2019, over 300 thousand people picker up materials on the streets in Rio. “After the pandemic started, it surpassed 650 thousand. People saw a way to generate income. For many, collection brought all the food they ate in a day, hence the importance of recycling for thousands of people.”
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ARERJ is responsible for the productive chain of recycling. Freitas underscored the need for further investment in the sector, adding that today, Rio’s Legislative Assembly is deliberating on a law recognizing the work of waste pickers in the state.
For each kilo of material collected, pickers will receive a bonus to promote sustainability, in addition to their normal earnings. Nancy Geringer, marketing manager of Canadian company Plastic Bank, which introduced the methodology in Brazil, said the firm is pioneering in using blockchain technology to track the recycling chain from beginning to end. Exchanges are reported on a blockchain-protected platform, which monitors collections and guarantees revenue. “From the moment a waste picker delivers the material at the collection point until the material reaches the processor in order to be reintroduced into the global production chain, it is tracked by blockchain technology,” Geringer said.
The company offers pickers bonuses above market value, she went on, so that each kilo received stimulates further plastic collection. “This is also for them to see value in the waste itself as well.” The bonus is BRL 0.35 a kilo, which represents at least 40 percent of the amount raised from collection. “The increase in income reaches at least 40 percent.” The initiative is sponsored by SC Johnson, and its primary goal is to remove from the area some 30 tons of plastic each month, “taking into account the potential waste irregularly discarded in the favela.”
Plastic Bank Brasil Director Helena Pavese mentioned the opportunity to work in Rocinha, considering the significance attached to plastic pollution in the region. “Images of the wave of plastic reaching São Conrado beach after storms in Rio de Janeiro are common and make the issue of incorrect disposal of waste in the region more and more evident every year. This makes our work in this area essential.” Pavese believes recycling will make a positive environmental impact on the favela and increase waste pickers’ income.
Before returning to the productive sector, the collected material is sent to partner processors and turns into social plastic for reuse in products and packaging.
Plastic Bank arrived in Brazil late in 2019. Now, the company is inaugurating the sixth material collection center in Rio de Janeiro. As it stands today, Plastic Bank has collection points located in Bertioga and São Vicente, in São Paulo state, and in Vila Velha, in the state of Espírito Santo.
Plastic Bank, Nancy Geringer said, believes plastic must be stopped before reaching the ocean. As a result, the company works in coastal areas up to 50 kilometers from the sea, valleys, and basins, extracting the plastic before it reaches the effluent heading toward the ocean. In Rocinha, she restated that the objective is strategic: to prevent waste from flowing into the waters of São Conrado.
Aided by this technology, the company has collected 137 million plastic bottles in Brazil, with more than 4 thousand pickers registered in favelas. The company was founded in 2013 in Canada and also operates in Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, Thailand, and Cameroon. Worldwide, Plastic Bank has prevented more than 2.5 billion PET bottles—the equivalent of 50 million kilos of plastic—from reaching the oceans.
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