Cover story for Brazilian ‘fishing for plastic’ initiative

Fishers from Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are getting another living from the sea: fishing for waste.

BVRio’s project in partnership with the Italian social enterprise Ogyre featured on the cover of O Globo, a mainstream newspaper in Brazil, over the weekend. The reporter Ludmilla Lima went to meet the fishers, who are now earning a salary collecting waste from Guanabara Bay through the project, after seeing the fish almost disappear in less than two decades from their coastline very much in part because of pollution.

“Before, we used to catch luxury fish, like sea bass, whiting, sole. Today, we are here catching waste.” summarises Ronaldo Barboza, the 59-year-old president of the fishing village of Bancários, who coordinates the process.

The fishers go out to sea twice a week with the mission of removing 100 tons of garbage from the Bay over the next 12 months. Last Tuesday, more than a ton was collected from the mangroves of Ilha do Governadorwith the support of five small boats, three rowing and two motorboats.

The material, after being separated, is sold through the app KOLEKT, developed by BVRio and Circular Action, which also registers and monitors the waste being collected using images and GPS in order to verify the inputs of both the seller, the fishers, and the buyer, in this case, the waste cooperative Cooperecológica. Any non-recyclable material is responsibly destined to Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Landfill. The waste catch is paid through daily fees, which is more than a minimum wage per month for each fisher.

“What the project pays is saving us. It was already difficult, and now with this rain, a lot of garbage is coming from the rivers. We can’t fish.”, regrets Francinaldo Alves da Silva, a 47-year-old fisher who has lived in the area since he was 10.

The waste removal work begins under the sun’s first rays and ends in the middle of the morning, with the boats arriving full at the end of the day. Each one can hold up to 200 kilos.In 2016, the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Special Waste Companies (Abrelpe) estimated that the Bay receives 90 tons of trash per day. Even representing a drop in this ocean of waste, the fishers will continue with the collection until April 2023.

BVRio’s circular economy specialist, Pedro Succar, explains that each reverse logistics credit in the market is equivalent to one ton of waste removed from nature. BVRio’s CEO, Mauricio Moura Costa, says that, since the beginning, BVRio sought to connect large companies to those who are on the front line working with the waste collection: “The credit comes with the idea of measuring the activity provided by the collector, who brings in positive environmental action but wasn’t being paid for an unappreciated service, up until when the companies took the responsibility to reverse this material.”

The article is available only in Portuguese, but be sure to click through for some great images of the fishers.