We have been in Brasília for a little bit more than a month now. We have gotten to understand the city’s interesting structure and architecture, and some of its hidden gems. On Wednesday 27th of march we met with Tatiana Marins Caiado, a former supervisor at SLU (Serviçio de Limpeza Urbana- Urban Cleaning Service) and she showed us how the city is handling and recycling its garbage. We went to see one of the recycling stations and the city’s infamous dump site. We got to meet some of the workers, smell its scents and take a look at the operational structure.
The SLU is the public waste management department in Brasilia. They are responsible for the collecting and recycling of waste, as well as general maintenance and cleaning in the city. In Brasília they separate garbage into Recyclables and Organic waste. The SLU owns two warehouses and rents two others, and this is where the Recyclables are being brought. The two warehouses in their possession is brand new and offer the workers a safer and cleaner work environment. Before, the waste-pickers worked in the landfill site. The landfill site is where all the materials that can not be (or are not properly recycled) ends up. Here the workers were at much greater risks of contamination, and we heard stories from supervisors that there had been found human body parts among the trash…
That is why the new warehouses are a great initiative from the state to improve working conditions and as well the recycling processes. In the warehouses the trash is being sorted by hand into about 20 different categories of waste. The different types of waste are then being sold to private companies for about 300 Reais (80 USD) a ton. This money is then shared between all the workers at the warehouse. Depending on the efficiency of the work they can end up earning between 600 to 2000 Reais (155-520 USD), though the usual monthly salary will be at the lower range of that estimate. Tatiana tells us that the workers used to earn more when they worked at the landfill site, working day and night under bad working conditions, compared to 6-hours days at the warehouse, collecting and recycling directly from the piles of trash.
We also visited the landfill site in Brasília which is nominated the second biggest in the world (!) It has existed for about 50 years and were recently closed for ordinary waste, only accepting construction waste. It’s an incredible view, it has its own infrastructure of roads and dump areas, and its highest point is 60 meters above ground level. It has a circumference of 6 kilometers, and it is said to be the highest point of Brasília. It is managed and evaluated on a weekly basis, changing dump areas according to the topography. What stroke us the most was the smell of gas. During the years and layers upon layers of waste, the breakdown of organic matter results in the production of methane gas. To avoid hazardous situations, they have built canals stretching 6 to 8 meters down to filtrate the gas out into the atmosphere.
There is a great potential in using this bio gas as a renewable energy source here in Brasília. As of now there is no infrastructure in place at this facility for these kinds of operations. Think about the potential reduction in greenhouse gas emission from fossil fuel, to develop bio fuel, in a city that has almost 1.8 million cars…
The governmental waste program in Brasília has improved during the last years but still faces many difficulties in order to become a proper agent for sustainable and effective waste treatment. We have experienced some private initiatives and community-based programs and activities that aims to improve this. Composting programs, locally grown food communities and private waste collection services are demonstrating that the people of Brasília are getting more and more concern about their waste-footprint and that they want to do something about it.
We want to encourage hostels all over the world and the public in general to search for information about your governmental or private waste programs. Can we make some small adjustment in our trash handling to reduce our waste-footprints?
Written by: Thomas Røkås
Keep following our updates here on the blog, to hear more stories and ideas about sustainability in Brazil and in Norway!