Rio: How to live from waste

Sorting waste is mostly done by the poor in Rio de Janeiro, who are earning their keep with it. Yet other inhabitants of the metropole are willing to cooperate. Only they aren’t aware that there are services for collecting waste.

THERE ARE CONTAINERS ON THE STREETS filled with pressed plastics sorted by color. In the dirty warehouse of the company Pompeu, in the center of Rio, there are heaps of different objects, made from wood, metal, and plastic. Inhabitants of the streets, poor and dirty, are collecting cans, bottles, and paper. They earn their daily income through selling waste. A bag of cans earns them 6 real and 50 centavos, about 1 euro 50. Pompeu is one of the numerous companies in Rio that have been buying and selling recyclable waste for 30 years. ‘There are people who earn a few real at a time, but also people who bring in carloads, earning 500 real (about 120 euro) at a time’ says Jorge, the man behind the small desk


On the streets of Rio, vendors of beer, water, and soda are doing good business. Everything is served in plastic bottles and cans, something which the city wants to get rid of more and more. that’s why the usage of plastic has been restricted last year. straws and plastic bags can now only be made from biodegradable materials. Luckily, bags are largely being recycled: as garbage bags, containers, or to clean up excrements of pets. Yet the heavily polluted Guanabara bay, in the northeast side of the city, is filled with the sad results of the usage of plastic.

But the realization is dawning among the cariocas (inhabitants of Rio), that it can’t continue like this. ‘I’m being called all the time by people who want to know how they can sort their waste and where to bring it’ tells Eduardo Bernhardt from the NGO Recicloteca. ‘We’re not just talking about those highly educated. The other day a maid asked what was the best way to sort the trash in “her” house.’’


Rio de Janeiro (approximately  6.5 million inhabitants) has started sorting waste since 2013. There are 26 routes where waste is being collected. Those net about 1700 tonnes of recyclable material per month. The collection service COMLURB then hands that off to 22 cooperatives of recyclers, who sort and sell it to companies who’ll use it to make new products. COMLURB claims to be working on the awareness among citizens, but according to Eduardo Bernhardt, sorting waste is still mostly done by people with financial problems. ‘Most people are unaware that it exists’ he says. ‘We had hoped that the 2016 Olympic games would provide an impulse for a more active policy, but that hasn’t happened. They say it’s too expensive, but collecting garbage everyday and processing it at dump sites is ultimately more expensive.’


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