Waste pickers in Curitiba, the third largest city in Brazil, are to have their livelihoods protected as part of a groundbreaking partnership to overhaul the whole garbage system. Their co-operatives will be equipped and trained by the private company that wins the city’s waste contract, which will also deliver recyclable waste to them. In this way, their work will become an integral element of plans to divert far more garbage from landfill to recycling
Results & Impact
The partnership agreement has been drawn up, but the municipality is reviewing the project before inviting bids. No figures are available for the number of waste pickers in Curitiba, but there are are an estimated 230,000 in Brazil as a whole
The City of Curitiba, the International Finance Corporation, a private waste management company (yet to be identified), local waste pickers' co-operatives
In contracting a new waste management company, Curitiba will oblige it to deliver recyclable garbage, like plastics and tins, to waste pickers' co-operatives. The company must also provide recycling equipment and training in how to use it. The pickers keep all the money from treating and selling the waste, protecting their livelihoods and improving recycling for a negligible cost
Cost & Value
The project has been put on hold after local elections brought in a new administration. The IFC are taking the new administration through the project to persuade them of its merits
Waste pickers in Brazil are to have their livelihoods protected as part of a groundbreaking public-private partnership to overhaul the whole garbage system.
Curitiba, the country’s third largest city, plans to partner with a private company to make its streets cleaner and divert garbage from its ever fuller landfill, while obliging that company to provide recyclable material to the waste pickers’ businesses.
“A reality in Curitiba – and all over Brazil – is that you have a considerable amount of informal waste picking,” said Mahomed Bashir of the International Finance Corporation, which has worked out the terms of the agreement. “And unfortunately most of this social structure is fragile. They have no know-how to put their products – the waste they pick – into the market. And the national policy is not to eradicate waste pickers, but to include them in the system in a dignifying way.”
The latest survey found that around 230,000 people in Brazil make money by picking sellable materials out of the trash. Worldwide, several million people earn their living this way. Earnings vary widely, but in places like Brazil, where they are incorporated into co-operatives, they can bring in more than other informal workers.
The new partnership, which is yet to be concluded, will oblige the waste management firm that wins the municipal contract to sort out materials that the waste pickers can recycle – mainly plastics and tins – and deliver them to the pickers’ co-operatives. The firm will also be obliged to provide these co-operatives with equipment, maintain it regularly, and train the pickers themselves in how to get the most out of it. The co-operatives keep all the money they earn from treating and re-selling these recyclables.
“This mechanism would place the waste pickers in a much better position,” said Bashir. “They will be included in the system and it will shift some of these obligations to the firm, and for them, ultimately, over 15 years, when you consider the rest of the amounts, this is peanuts.”
The contract between the city and the firm is also structured so that, if the firm fails to meet its obligations, its fee will be cut. If the streets are not as clean as agreed, it can be penalised by as much as 20% of its fee, a rate designed, as Bashir puts it, to hurt but not to kill. If the situation gets any worse than what would merit a 20% penalty, the contract is terminated.
In contrast to traditional public-private partnerships, where the city might have to invest most of the capital up front to build a system, or carry the responsibility of running it, this “availability payment” structure will oblige the private partner to provide capital and make sure the system is well maintained. In returned, the city promises to make payments over fifteen years.
At the moment, said Bashir, “The municipality is paying per tonne of waste, so the current incumbent has the wrong incentive and the municipality is spending loads of money on the system. By comparing with international benchmarks, they have lots of room for improvement. Through the PPP and the incentives we’ve pushed through, this would clearly be cheaper than the current contract.”
Nevertheless, the Curitiba project has hit a roadblock. The city government that agreed the plan was deposed in elections at the end of 2016. The new administration has called the project in for review, in part because it has a funding emergency and may not be able to afford the outlay.
The city also already has a history of incorporating the waste pickers into its system through two pioneering programs, “lixo que nao è lixo” (garbage that it is not garbage) and “cambio verde” (green exchange). The former recycles household waste and the second incentivises ordinary people to bring their garbage to be recycled by giving them basic food in return. Some 7,500 residents of Curitiba’s slums turn in 2,800 tonnes of waste each year. The green exchange has become a model throughout the region.
(Flickr user Cliff Hammer)