Technology modernizes recycling, but the collector is necessary – 05/16/2022 – Tec

Indispensable in waste management and increasingly valued as the climate crisis approaches the door, the recycling chain has spent the past few decades virtually unaffected by the digital revolution. This scenario has started to change recently, as startups have identified business opportunities in the region.

However, the introduction of technology does not exclude the huge number of workers involved in the activity, which is essential for the quality of recycling, according to experts.

One such example is in Carapicuíba, in the greater city of São Paulo. There, on the pier along the Córrego Cadaval waterfront, pedestrians can barely keep up with the rushing cars crossing the road. However, there is a vehicle that appears on the horizon occasionally with slow steps.

These are carts that weigh a lot more than they should carry: Cardboard, bottles and cans fill the backs of recyclable pickup carts. They come to unload a portion of the volume they have collected in the greater streets of São Paulo. Destiny, however, is not a junkyard, but a startup – Green Mining.

Since the end of 2021, a plant has been operating there that pays at least six times as much to the bottle collector – waste of abundant raw materials, and therefore of less value in the recycling chain.

The Fábrica Price Station, as it was called, is one of Green Mining’s projects. Elsewhere, startup employees are searching for items found in bars and restaurants in the area.

Matthews Magalhaes, 27, has been in this role since 2018, but his main task is to record information on waste up to the point through independent collectors.

Data is entered into an application and recorded on the blockchain, a system that has become popular with the proliferation of cryptocurrencies. The tool is a kind of general book on the Internet, and it is practically impossible to violate it.

“No data can be changed. We guarantee that we do not increase or decrease what has already been collected,” says one of the company’s founders, Rodrigo Oliveira. “All data is open. We put the volume of material collected directly on our website. There people can find out how much is collected every day. If it is 1 kilo, it shows 1 kilo. If it is 1 ton, it shows 1 ton.”

Funded by major packaging producers, the glass that gets there goes to the packaging companies and returns to the shelves, a process that increases the useful life of landfills, uses less energy and saves natural resources.

Updating the laws opens up opportunities

The approval of the National Solid Waste Policy Act, in 2010, and the signing of the sector packaging agreement, in 2015, opened a pavilion for technology companies, which began to act as a logistical arm of recycling for large companies.

The law provides for reverse logistics, that is, the path of return of packaging after consumption. The agreement, made between large companies and the government, set a reduction of at least 22% of packaging materials going to landfills by 2018.

In this context, submitting invoices has become a popular way to prove recycling. Intermediary companies buy these credits from one of the links in the chain (a cooperative, for example), and sell them to companies that need to account for their packaging.

It’s a similar system to the carbon credits market, explains Flávia Cunha, founder of Casa Causa, Solution Center for the Circular Economy. However, the entrepreneur has reservations about the application of this method in Brazil.

“It’s almost a bargaining chip,” he says. “There’s no auditing, you can’t see this flow happening. You just see the change of paper, you don’t see the change in recyclables. There is no traceability.”

Entrepreneur Dion Manetti called the simple commercial marketing of credits “stock monetization”.

“I’m lining up a result that is already in the series, but I’m not investing in its base to expand its ability to recover,” he says.

His company Pragma takes advantage of this resource, selling invoices earned from cooperatives to companies that need proof of reverse logistics. The papers go through a system that validates them through the Federal Tax Service and verifies the electronic signature.

But the real difference, he says, lies in monitoring the budget: The co-operative partner sets a price for the stock, but Pragma participates in the stock plan.

“If I simply pay the co-op and don’t follow through and plan together, I risk that money being appropriated by a few people,” he says.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, income was a priority for members of the Cooperzagati cooperative, in Taboão da Serra, in Greater São Paulo. “It was key. We had no one to sell,” says Luana Oliveira, president of Pragma’s co-op co-op.

Less investment can make the process more expensive in the long run

Betting on increasing the capacity of the links in this chain is more than a matter of principle. With the updating of legislation regarding recycling, the trend is that the demand for the service provided by the cooperatives grows a lot.

“The market is starting to sink,” Manetti says. “If they don’t invest in recovery capacity, the value per ton is going to be expensive.”

The entrepreneur is pessimistic about the startup initiatives that have woken up to the market in recent years.

“The collectors alone will not be able to recover 100% of the waste. But we must guarantee their space in this market, because they were the ones who invented it in Brazil. When no one talked about recycling, there were already thousands of families in the country that lived and survived,” he says. Manetti says.

Waste collectors are the first to get their hands on waste to prevent it from being buried, and the destination of more than 26 million tons of recyclables annually in the country, according to an estimate by Abrelpe (the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Private Waste Companies).

The National Movement of Recyclable Collectors (MNCR) estimates that there are 800,000 collectors in Brazil. The 2021 Recycling Yearbook identified 9,754 of these professionals in 358 recyclables organizations. It is estimated that 54% are women and 76.1% are black.

In 2020, the 326,700 tons recovered by waste pickers organizations could have reduced 153,321 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the recycling yearbook.

In the Ribeiro neighborhood, just over an hour by public transportation from Pelorinho, a postcard from downtown Salvador, Ginvaldo Ribeiro supported his family for ten years with the income he earns from recycling.

He’s one of the founders of Cooperguary, born out of an attempt to clean up the river that runs through the community.

“The environment affects everything in our lives. We see how the rain destroys the farms, which will affect the food and make everything more expensive,” says Tiko, he is known.

Paying for the work of the cooperative members increases the amount of collection

At the co-op headquarters, where Teko serves as manager, material pressed toward cracks in the ceiling, which, with its massive front gate, provides enough light for the 20 members to extract items arriving from trucks.

Each operates in his own booth at the same pace: in the middle of the shed, one recycler separates the blue plastic from the casing from the cardboard wrappers that should come in handy in a coil, while another disassembles the old electronics to find the most valuable material for recycling: copper .

However, there are two employees who have changed their routines in the past two months. From Tuesday through Saturday, Ane Silva and Gilberto Santos make their way to the nearby Cooperguary for a shed in Rio Vermelho, a bohemian neighborhood in Salvador.

There, they take tricycles and cycle around the neighborhood collecting recyclables in homes and restaurants that have signed up for the Roda programme, run by Bahia startup Solos.

Funded by large corporations, the startup enters into temporary partnerships with cooperatives. One of the terms of the contract is to provide two members of the cooperative to work the road.

This is the second time Cooperguary has participated in the project. Initially, when the pandemic was in an acute phase, the help was important to the cooperative’s survival, according to Teko, who saw competition increase with the economic crisis.

“Here in Salvador we have seen far fewer people collecting materials. What we see now is not the natural collector, which collects every day, but the automatic collector. He is unemployed, has difficulties, and collects what he collects to take his livelihood home and this It has a direct impact on the work of the cooperative,” he said.

The funding strategy fulfills what Tico claims at any opportunity: to reward the work of cooperatives. He’s tired of mustering a truck and collaborators to get to a destination and get only a glass case. With payment, the wages for the work are guaranteed. “There, all the stuff is profit,” he says.

Anyone interested in donating their waste must register their data on a website and set a day for collection. Based on this information, the startup programs a path and notifies the pickers via WhatsApp.

“Technology is our Achilles heel today. We know it is essential, not only to ensure a more efficient process, but also to have more reliable data tracking,” says Savile Alves, founder of the company.

But the investment should be high.

Technology Can Empower ‘Uber for Recyclers’

“Geolocation, like Uber and iFood, is too expensive. Today we can’t put it down,” Alves says. “It seems like a simple thing, because in our daily lives, but only adults can do it in real time.”

In an ideal world, he says, the co-op member would be logged into an order where appointments would arrive depending on where they were — an uber from the recycler. The goal is to have such a system in two or three years.

For the project coordinator at the NGO Sustentar, Jacqueline Rutkowski, the foray of technology into the sector is interesting because it increases the number of solutions for waste disposal.

“Often, when you don’t have a public policy in place, these apps make it easier for you to send waste for recycling,” he says. But automation has its limitations, according to the engineer, especially when it comes to large machines.

“It is difficult to have equipment that is capable of separating the myriad of recyclables we have today from the trash,” she explains. Woodwinds, for example, can separate paper. The magnet selects ferrous materials. But plastic is almost impossible without human activity.

“Wherever waste pickers operate, you can benefit from a better selection of recyclable materials,” he says. “In that sense, the social technology they develop is more efficient.”

This report was produced with a press production grant on mass recycling from Fundação Gabo and Latitud R.

Leave a Comment