‘Cooperate to Recycle’: project seeks to turn waste into opportunities for workers and recycling market effectiveness

This week, Coopama (Cooperativa Amigos do Meio Ambiente), through the ‘Cooperate to Recycle’ project carried out with technical support from BVRio and funding from Petrobras, began recording the collection of recyclable materials using the KOLEKT waste management app. The app will allow collection activities to be tracked and monitored online, guaranteeing payments and the traceability of waste throughout the recycling chain, offering transparency and efficiency in operations.

BVRio has been working with the cooperative on this project since last year to increase its capacity to process the material collected and to dispose of it correctly, as well as improving business management with innovation and process redesign using mobile technology. With this, the project aims to have a positive impact on the recycling market, while at the same time promoting the inclusion of waste pickers by increasing their income and offering training programmes. Since the start of the project, Coopama has recruited 10 new people and now has 86 cooperative members, 45 men and 38 women. It has also hired two female employees for the co-operative’s administration and communication, improving business.

BVRio also helped the cooperative acquire new equipment to reduce the physical strain on workers and increase their safety. A roll-on roll-off lorry, a box truck and a forklift were purchased, all of which are essential for improving the cooperative’s efficiency and logistical capacity, and its ability to meet market demands.

“The Cooperate to Recycle project came at a good time because there is a crisis in the prices of materials, which are lower. Cooperatives are in a delicate situation, so Coopama needed to improve its logistics. With the funding, we were able to make improvements, including the purchase of lorries, which made our work easier. The lorries arrived at the right time, providing comfort for the drivers and increasing their safety. Before that, we were losing partners due to a lack of transport logistics. BVRio has been an ally since the beginning of the project. They are always there for all the activities, helping and walking alongside us. We learn something new from them daily, and this partnership is very special to us.” Said Luis Carlos, Coopama’s CEO.

In line with the principles of a just transition, Petrobras is also supporting two other projects involving the cooperatives COOPCARMO and ACAMJG to dispose of around 600 tonnes a year (the total for all three projects) of recyclable and reusable solid waste generated by four of its properties in the capital and Baixada Fluminense (ARM RIO, Cenpes, Galpão Belford Roxo and Conjunto Caju). This support from Petrobras emphasises the importance of strengthening cooperativism and the work done by cooperatives to manage solid waste responsibly. Although Brazil has exemplary cases of integrating waste pickers as essential parts of the formal recycling and waste management sector, there are still significant challenges in terms of informality and precarious working conditions.

“At Coopama, we’re very concerned about occupational safety. From collecting to baling the waste, we use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Before, when I worked as a waste picker at the Gramacho rubbish dump, it didn’t even cross my mind to use this kind of equipment, and I was often injured due to the lack of safety.” Said Adilson Farias, who sorts materials. Working at the cooperative, Adilson improved his skills in sorting materials and efficiently using the baling press. He has learnt to distinguish between and understand the different types of materials that arrive for sorting, such as PET bottles, PP (Polypropylene), white paper, among others.

The materials collected at Petrobras sites are recyclables, but some types don’t have enough market value to justify the collection and processing costs; therefore, BVRio has developed a different strategy for each kind of material. Paper, plastic, and metal have market value, and once collected, they are sorted, pressed, baled and sold to the recycling chain, ensuring their circularity. Glass has a low market value, so the strategy for this material will be to expand collection at other generators to gather a larger volume to negotiate a sale price that makes it viable to collect, sort and send to recyclers. Moreover, there is a large amount of wood on Petrobras’ sites, such as furniture and pallets, so the project’s biggest challenge was to think of a better destination for this material and we devised multiple solutions, including a woodworking school at Coopama’s headquarters to reuse the wood in capacity building courses.

“Coopama has helped me get to places I never thought possible,” says Jamerson Leandro, from the Operations Centre. “The support and opportunities I’ve had here have given me the chance to grow professionally and personally.” By becoming a cooperative member, Leandro has also embraced the importance of preserving the environment. “The word ‘environment’ has gone from just a concept to a daily mission. I’ve learnt to take care of and value every detail of our precious ecosystem.”