Bringing resources back

9th August 2013


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Stella Consonni reports on legislation that aims to create a circular economy in Brazil

Brazil is the largest country in South America, with a population of around 195 million. It has massive potential in terms of natural resources and is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. However, it has many national issues that need to be tackled and one of these is waste.

In 2011, Brazil generated about 62 million tonnes of solid waste and, while most European countries have reduced the quantity of residual waste through prevention and minimisation strategies, the Brazilian figures confirm an annual increase of 1.8%. More than two-thirds of waste originates from two regions, the South East and the North East, where much of the population is concentrated. Only 14% of the cities – 780 out of 5,565 – offer collection of dry recyclables.

The average cost of recyclable collections is £143 per tonne, around 4.5 times higher than that of standard waste collections. According to Silvano Silvério, director at the ministry of the environment, Brazil wastes at least 8 billion reais (R$), £2.7 billion, each year through not having the appropriate infrastructure for recycling.

Legalising waste

Brazil’s first national waste management legislation – Política Nacional de Resíduos Sólidos (PNRS) – came into force at the end of 2010. Its fundamental objective is to prioritise a national integrated waste management system under the principle of shared responsibility, with reverse logistics the key instrument to achieve that aim.

Meanwhile, states and municipalities are obliged to develop their own waste management plans. The PNRS also requires the inclusion of catadores (individuals who hand collect recyclables, such as paper, plastic and metal cans) and cooperatives (warehouses subsidised by local authorities where catadores bring their waste to separate the materials and sell them) in the reverse logistics systems, which are designed to return waste materials to manufacturers as secondary raw materials.

Brazil has an abundance of labour, but a large proportion has no qualifications, so waste picking provides an income for many. With the support of the government, many catadores have been organising themselves into cooperatives and receiving training. As a result, they are now obtaining appropriate qualifications and bringing social benefits to the country, alongside economic and environmental benefits from the development of reverse logistics systems. These are the key reasons for the PNRS’ requirement to include catadores in waste management strategies.

Rather than simply focusing on recycling, the PNRS goes further, aiming for a circular economy. Reverse logistics provide incentives to return waste materials to industry for reuse. When this is not feasible, waste must be disposed of appropriately. Soon after the PNRS came into force, the steering committee for the implementation of reverse logistics was established, which has since developed five technical working groups – made up of representatives from major retailers, waste producers and recyclers – to design sector agreements (see figure below). These set conditions, targets and obligations for retailers, manufacturers and importers to support the implementation of reverse logistics strategies in, for example, the packaging industry and for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

Packing a punch

Total sales of domestically produced packaging were valued at approximately R$47 billion (around £16 billion) in 2012; an increase of around 3% from 2011. Plastics represented the highest proportion, accounting for more than 37% of the total; followed by paper and card at around 34.5%; metals at 17%; and glass at 5%. The Brazilian packaging industry expects further growth this year, with overall production predicted to rise another 2%.

The Ciclosoft 2012 waste collection survey by Compromisso Empresarial Pára Reciclagem (Cempre) revealed the average proportion of dry recyclables materials collected in 2011. The highest proportion was paper/cardboard (approximately 46%), plastic (16%, including polyethylene terephthalate – PET), glass (9%), ferrous metal (6%), cartons (3%), aluminium (1%) and electronics (0.5%).

Rejected materials sent to landfill totalled about 17%. The report also breaks down the different types of plastic collected, showing that PET accounted for the highest proportion (more than 30%), followed by mixed plastics (over 20%), high-density polyethylene (16%), polypropylene (15%), low-density polyethylene (7.5%) and polystyrene (less than 3%).

The introduction of the PNRS followed a steady increase in recycling levels, particularly of post-consumer packaging materials. A recent study for Plastivida (the socio-environmental institute for plastics) reported that more than 20% of post-consumer plastic waste (excluding PET) was recycled in 2011. This was an 8% increase on 2010 levels and brought the weight of post-consumer plastics being recycled up to 1 million tonnes.

With the PNRS demanding the implementation of reverse logistics systems for post-consumer packaging, Brazil’s collection and recycling infrastructure can only improve. It is reasonable therefore to expect that the levels of packaging materials being recycled will increase. Space for growth and improvement to the collection and recycling infrastructure certainly exists. There are currently around 815 plastic recyclers in Brazil; however, the Plastivida study found that only about 20% have appropriate registration/certification in place, and that more than one-third (37%) of capacity is idle.

Consumer packaging

The draft post-consumer packaging (non-hazardous) sector agreement – which the environment ministry issued for consultation last year and is expected to finalise shortly – emphasises a progressive implementation of reverse logistic systems. It focuses on tackling the amount of dry recyclables being sent to landfill through legally-binding targets: a 22% reduction in recyclable waste sent to landfill in 2015 against a 2012 baseline, rising to a 45% cut in 2031.

The draft gives priority to urban areas and the 11 cities hosting next year’s World Cup. In its response to the consultation, Cempre, whose 40 members include major organisations such as McDonald’s, Nestlé, Philips, P&G and Unilever, went further and proposed the following minimum requirements:

  • up to 2015 – increase the recovery rate of dry recyclable waste by 20% against 2012 levels; reduce the amount sent to landfill by 22%; and establish collection facilities covering 90% of the population in the World Cup host cities; and
  • post 2015 – reduce the level of municipal solid waste going to landfill by 45%.

To improve Brazil’s collection infrastructure and material separation processes, Cempre proposes the expansion of “bring banks”, which are available throughout the country. Under the plans, all retailers with 4,000m2 or more of shopfloor space and with at least 115 parking spaces must provide a minimum of 4m2 of bring banks. “The expansion of bring banks is crucial to increase the levels of dry recyclables collected. The Ciclosoft report found that around 53% of the population disposed of their packaging via bring banks in 2012,” says Cempre president, Victor Bicca.

Cempre also wants responsibility for the collection and separation of many recyclable materials to be given to catadores and the cooperatives, with finance provided by local authorities or private firms to buy machinery, such as conveyor belts and balers, to optimise material separation processes.

Mandatory shared responsibility and reverse logistics for local authorities, retailers, producers and importers are the instruments Brazil is relying on to improve the existing recycling infrastructure. Raising awareness of the opportunities that a reverse logistic system can bring for all businesses is therefore key.

“To develop a reverse logistics operation, investment is required, but most organisations see it as prohibitively expensive. It is a continuous and difficult process to prove to them that the return of a product back into the manufacturing process is a benefit to their own industry and the country’s economy,” comments Chicko Souza at WasteWise, a Brazilian recycling organisation.

Wasted electrics

The manufacture in Brazil of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is a large and growing sector of the economy, and most goods are for domestic consumption. It is estimated that by 2014 there will be more than 1 million tonnes a year of WEEE (excluding lamps) in the country; over 50% of this will be large domestic appliances, including cooling equipment. This tonnage is forecast to increase by around 25% in the following three years, at which point it should reach its peak. It is then predicted to plateau and decline slightly by 2020.

A final sector agreement for WEEE is expected by September 2013, when obligations and targets for key players will be set. The first draft of the WEEE agreement has already established key minimum requirements for the reverse logistics strategies. These cover the first five years of the agreement and include:

  • 17% (by weight) of the amount of EEE placed in the market the previous year must be collected and put back into the industry, or appropriately disposed of when reverse logistics is not possible;
  • all cities with a population of more than 80,000 (around 350 cities in total) must provide permanent bring banks, with a ratio of at least 1:25,000 people. This equates to a minimum of 4,000 bring banks across the country; and
  • all cities with fewer than 80,000 residents must establish collection campaigns.

The WEEE reverse logistics arrangements are to be implemented and operated by a partnership of local authorities and WEEE retailers, manufacturers and importers. Their specific share of responsibility will be determined by the final agreement. Funding will go towards creating bring banks and establishing WEEE collection and treatment facilities.

Currently, the biggest problem for implementing a WEEE reverse logistics system in Brazil is the collection infrastructure. This is largely due to the geography of the country, which makes the transport of such waste very expensive – around 50% of the total WEEE processing cost. The lack of WEEE treatment sites is a cause for concern, as is the fact that many existing facilities operate under capacity, due to a gap in the collection infrastructure which prevents materials available in the waste stream from reaching the sites.

“Existing facilities are not sufficient to cover the demand. Also, they are concentrated in the South East and the North East regions, making logistics complex and expensive,” states a representative of one Brazilian disassembling company.

Growing optimism

Although sector specific PNRS agreements are not yet in place, around 60% of the 100 largest companies in Brazil have already started investing in and setting up reverse logistic processes. Also, the waste industry is enthusiastic and optimistic, believing that reverse logistics has certainly “kicked off” following the introduction of PNRS.

Nonetheless, success will depend on further investment. “Although the PNRS has brought some improvement on the collection and separation of dry recyclables, making available a higher proportion of waste materials, the recycling infrastructure remains much the same,” says Souza at WasteWise.

Reverse logistics in action

Some successful examples of packaging reverse logistics initiatives in Brazil include:

  • Paper and card – Grupo Páo de Açúcar, a major Brazilian retailer, has engaged a paper mill (Papirus) and some cooperatives to implement a reverse logistics programme (called Ciclo Verde) for its own-brand paper and card packaging. The programme started in 2008 and allows consumers to discard packaging at the point of purchase. Grupo Páo de Açúcar has since collected 4.4 million tonnes of paper and plastic packaging, and the volume is steadily increasing. Catadores and cooperatives collect and sort both pre-consumer packaging and post-consumer packaging from bring banks placed outside the retailer’s shops. The paper mill recycles the baled paper and card to produce materials which are used by Grupo Páo de Açúcar to package new products.
  • Polypropylene – consumer goods company P&G works with WiseWaste, a Brazilian recycling organisation, on a reverse logistics programme to recycle post-consumer packaging. The programme began in 2012, and involves 10 cooperatives. They collect and sell post-consumer plastics packaging to WiseWaste. The plastics collected are recycled into pellets. These polypropylene pellets – the material used to produce caps for most P&G products – are then used in the manufacturing of supermarket displays to promote P&G goods.
  • Biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP) – BOPP film is commonly used in crisps packaging and is difficult to recycle. It is lightweight and its complex recyclability makes the implementation of reverse logistics systems almost impossible, which is why catadores have not collected it in the past. However, WiseWaste has designed a process to recycle BOPP. It has also introduced a programme to incentivise catadores to collect BOPP and for it to be separated and baled by cooperatives. The incentive was financial, with the cooperatives paid the same price for collecting crisps bags as they would be for cardboard. WiseWaste operated a three-month pilot in 2011, collecting a total of 136 tonnes of crisps bags – around 45 million units. These were recycled and manufactured into 8,000 plastic pallets, which were used by crisps producers to transport and distribute their products.


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