Brazil is one of the world’s leaders in recycling materials such as paper, aluminum cans, steel cans, tires, plastic and even refrigerators. But unlike the US and other countries, it has very few government-sponsored recycling programs.
In fact, only about 6.4% of Brazilian cities have official waste recycling programs in which trucks collect recyclables left at the curb with their trash by residents. The vast majority of recycling in Brazil is performed by waste pickers who earn a living collecting recyclables and selling them to private recycling companies.
Brazilian Waste Pickers
When you tour Brazil, you will discover that waste picker is a respected profession there and has been recognized by the government as an official occupation. In many cities, organizations comprised of waste pickers are influential in local, state and even national issues.
A national program called the Integrated Solid Waste and Carbon Finance Project was created to develop strategies for integrating professional waste pickers into local waste management programs.
The most heavily recycled material in Brazil is aluminum cans. In 2005, 96% of all aluminum cans sold eventually recycled. That’s a total of nearly 9.4 million aluminum cans, an impressive feat.
About half of all aluminum cans are collected by professional waste pickers and sold to private recycling companies. The other half are collected through organized programs at supermarkets, schools, companies and other organizations.
Paper is another heavily recycled material in Brazil. In 2006, the country recycled 3.9 million tons of paper or about 45% of all the paper materials produced that year.
While most soda and beer cans in Brazil are made of aluminum, about 5% are still made of steel. IN 2007, about 49% of all steel cans were recycled.
But other sources of steel — including old cars, consumer appliances, and building waste — were recycled at a rate of about 70%.
The people of Brazil are serious about helping improve the environment through recycling, despite the lack of widespread, government-sanctioned collection programs.