THE MAIN PROBLEM
The P3RSW Mega-Theme: Preventing, Reducing, Reusing, Recycling of Solid Waste via Cooperatives of Waste Pickers
Waste is part of human activities. With the growing awareness about sustentability, minimizing the amount of waste generated and not recycled became an strategic goal worldwide. However, there are many countries still beginning the transition to a proper treatment of waste.
The capital of Brazil, Brasília, is a planned city built from scratch in the 1960s. The urbanism of the city, as well as its modernist architecture, reflects its rational and planned character, being studied all over the world. However, the waste disposal of the city was not planned with the same precision. Until 2018, the city of Brasília disposed its waste in an open dumpsite, which became the second biggest in the world.
The city of Brasília, Brazil.
The dumpsite of Brasília, Brazil, before the closure.
Dumpsites are harmful to the environment in several ways: they pollute the soil, rivers, lakes and the groundwater; emit green house gases; cause fire with the potential of creating deforestation; bring deseases to people; among other problems. Therefore, it is a general consensus that dumpsites need to be substituted by proper sanitary landfills as soon as possible.
In Brazil, there are more than 3000 open dumpsites, which need to be closed in the next few years according to the new Brazilian Sanitary Act approved in 2020. The Dumpsite of Brasília, which was the 2nd biggest in the world, was finally closed in 2018. The local government had decided to close it more than 20 years before, but, among other motives, the lack of knowledge on how to deal with different obstacles caused a procrastination.
A social issue is of the biggest obstacles when solving the environmental problem that dumpsites represent: the waste pickers who take their survival from the dumpsite. The waste pickers are usually people who find no other option for their survival other than collect waste to sell or to consume. They are a very vulnerable group of people.
Therefore, to close a dumpsite means also having to deal with this social issue. In Brasília, this process was finally successfully executed in 2017 and 2018, counting with many measures for facilitating the transition of life of the waste pickers.
One of the main measures adopted was the construction and implementation of the new sorting facilities, which are buildings in which the waste pcikers can still work with recyclation and waste collection, but now in a formal condition (which is something completely unprecedented for them).
Waste Pickers working in one of the new Sorting Facilities after the closure of the dumpsite in Brasília
Even with the success of the closure overall, many problems remain in the way the city deals with its waste and for the Waste Pickers who now try to build their new lifes. Problems in the selective collection, in the triage and in the commercialization of recyclables are part of the problems in the waste chain. Although affected by these problems, the waste pickers also have to deal with more specific challenges related to their reality, like the lack of very basic education in their lives, which is a bottleneck for them to find new perspectives. See more details here in the previous problem sets of the P3RSW.
What we do in Brasília will serve as model to the process of closure of the other many dumpsites in Brazil. Solutions on IT, engineering and research on humanities areas are our goal and will have significant impact!