For the first time in history, waste picker co-operatives are in charge of not only collecting, but also recycling the waste generated during the Olympic games. The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Rio 2016 organisers, Rio’s state government and the federal government, which have invested R$3m (£720,000) into the scheme.
The programme, called Inclusive Recycling: Recyclers in Rio 2016, was launched on 29 July at the premises of Ecoponto co-operative in Rio de Janeiro. The project is operated under the umbrella of the Environment Ministry of Brazil.
Co-operatives play a key role in formalising the informal economy in Brazil. By setting up co-ops, waste pickers can pool their resources and bid for bigger contracts. The Federal government is looking to support co-ops and has announced it would allocate R$200m for training and infrastructure projects for associations and waste pickers co-operatives. Waste picker co-ops were also involved in collecting waste generated during the World Cup in 2014.
The president of the National Movement of Waste Pickers, Claudete Da Costa, said that the Rio 2016 project could also help generate more respect for waste pickers across Brazil. “This is not just another regular event for which we are offering our services. This is an event that will make us more respected, something we have been fighting for for years,” she said.
Around 240 waste pickers from 33 co-operatives are participating in the project. The collectors receive a daily minimum of R$80 (£19.40) for their services. As well as being paid for their work, the members of the co-ops also get to keep the profit generated from selling the recyclable material. They are primarily focusing on three of the main Olympic sites: Deodoro, Barra da Tijuca and Maracanã.
Ricardo Alves, a policy coordinator at Rio’s environment office, said the programme enabled waste pickers to generate an income and widen their expertise. He thinks that the Olympics could be an opportunity for them to show that they can provide their services for many more large-scale events.
Mr Alves suggested other municipalities in Brazil to work with the waste pickers co-ops to make sure more material is being recycled. The collected recyclable material is being monitored and can be tracked on a designated website.
Staff from the co-operatives are also distributing promotional materials to the public in which they are being told how to separate waste properly.
Environment secretary André Corrêa added: “Strengthening and opening the market for waste pickers co-operatives is our main objective with this project. If they are involved in the Olympics then they are qualified to work in all major events hosted by the state,” he said in a press release.
In a statement, Raquel Brenda, director of the Department of Sustainable Consumption of the country’s Environment Ministry said that the proper management of solid waste was one of the key pillars of the sustainability programme of the Olympic games in 2016.
The organisers expect the Olympic games to generate 3,500 tonnes of recyclable materials and they hope to be able to recycle most of it, from plastic bottles to paper and aluminium cans.