Sustainable Industry

On International Recycling Day, Brazil celebrates advances in waste collection and disposal

The final and environmentally sound disposal of waste exceeded 60% and reverse logistics was established as a tool to establish shared responsibility for the life cycle of products

This is an important date for everyone who cares about the future: May 17 is International Recycling Day, established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) to encourage people to think about the proper disposal of waste.

According to data from Panorama dos Resíduos Sólidos no Brasil 2021, a benchmark publication launched by the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Special Waste Companies (Abrelpe), the generation of solid urban waste in Brazil has reached the mark of 82.5 million tons per year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This report – which for two decades has gathered the most up-to-date data in the sector – provides useful information on the proper generation, collection and disposal of waste in Brazil. According to the report, for the first time the final and environmentally sound disposal of waste exceeded 60%, and as the National Solid Waste Policy (Law 12,305/2010) came into force, reverse logistics was established as a tool to establish shared responsibility for the life cycle of products. This led to the implementation of reverse logistics systems for post-consumption products and packaging and their return to a new cycle of use. Some successful cases illustrate this effort by the Brazilian industrial sector.

More recycling – Also according to Abrelpe’s publication, the Campo Limpo System, operated by the National Institute for the Processing of Empty Packaging (inpEV), has made significant strides in the processing of pesticide packaging, from about 31,000 tons in 2010, to nearly 50,000 tons in 2020 – of which 93.1% were recycled. This volume accounts for as much as 94% of the total primary packaging in the market.

There are also success stories about plastic packaging for lubricating oils. The Jogue Limpo Institute’s reverse logistics program, for example, covers 4,315 Brazilian municipalities. In 2010-2020, the adequate disposal of packaging had an almost four-fold increase – from 1,118 recycled tons in 2010 to 4,453 recycled tons in 2020.

On the other hand, according to Reciclanip – an organization that manages the reversible logistics of unserviceable tires and represents the manufacturers of these products –, from early 1999 to late 2020, about 5.6 million tons of these materials were collected and properly disposed of: a volume equivalent to 1.1 billion passenger car tires. There was an 82.1% increase in the number of tires recovered in 2010-2020: from 312,000 tons to 380,000 tons, respectively.

The National Electrical and Electronic Equipment Waste Manager (Green Eletron) – one of the organizations that address the management of electronic waste for domestic use in the country – also reports positive data. According to Green Eletron, the system successfully reused about 34 tons of ferrous and non-ferrous metals and recycled 22.3 tons of plastic in 2020, thereby avoiding the emission of 19 tons of CO2.

The Brazilian Institute of Recyclable Energy (Iber), which manages the reverse logistics system for lead-acid batteries, reported that more than 170,000 tons of lead-acid were recovered and fed back into the supply chain. In addition, almost 64,000 tons of electrolyte solution were recovered and/or reused, and more than 19,000 tons of plastics were recycled.

Now, PROLATA Reciclagem manages the reverse logistics of steel packaging (for ready-to-eat foods, animal feed, cosmetics, architectural paints, corks and lids, etc.) and reports having adequately disposed of more than 53,000 tons of packaging in 2016-2021 – 22,000 in 2021 alone, thereby avoiding emissions of about 81,500 tons of CO2 in the manufacture of new steel compared to 2020.

Aluminum, paper, steel – The Business Commitment to Recycling (Cempre), which focuses on promoting the reuse of solid waste in the country, also reported figures that show that we are making progress. According to Cempre, Brazil is the top country in the world when it comes to aluminum recycling. In 2021, 98.7% of aluminum cans were recycled: of the 415,000 tons of cans sold in that year, 409,000 were recycled – in other words, nearly all cans in the market were recycled.

Cempre also reveals that Brazil is among the top paper recycling countries in the world. In 2019, 66.9% of paper in general was recycled; in 2018, 5.1 million tons were fed back into the production process. When packaging papers alone are considered, the rate is around 85%.

What’s more: in 2019, 47.1% of steel cans consumed in Brazil were recycled: around 200,000 tons of used steel cans were fed back into the recycling process, and more than 9 million tons were turned into new steel. In 2020, 42.7% of long-life packaging, made from cellulose, plastic and aluminum fibers, were recycled in Brazil.

“The recycling industry in Brazil grows as large companies embrace the circular economy: increased demand for recycled content drives the entire sector while creating opportunities and new jobs,” says Fernanda Daltro, CEO of Cempre.

“However, the bottom of the chain – the collectors, whether organized or not – continue to be the weak link given the under-investments involved, which creates a bottleneck for the expansion of this industry. Enabling actions are crucial so as to improve the flow of recyclable materials, also improving the final recycled product,” she said.

Cempre’s website pools together recycling initiatives and tips for effective recycling.

The National Solid Waste Plan – Brazil has made many other strides in its efforts to improve its solid waste management. This is reflected in the recently published National Solid Waste Plan (Planares), which provides guidelines, strategies, actions, and goals to upgrade this management and implement the objectives set out in the National Solid Waste Policy. The new mechanism describes a growing increase in waste recovery, thereby setting a target of 50% recovery for a 20-year period. Thus, half of the waste generated will be recovered through recycling, composting, biodigestion and energy recovery.

Given this backdrop, the Brazilian cement industry bears the greatest potential to handle large volumes of non-recyclable urban waste; co-processing technology transforms urban and industrial solid waste and environmental liabilities into thermal energy. In this process, waste is used instead of some of the fuel that feeds the furnace flame, which transforms clay and limestone into clinker (i.e., the raw material for cement). According to the Brazilian Association of Portland Cement (ABCP), this is a safe option for the adequate and sustainable disposal of waste and environmental liabilities in cement kilns.

ABCP president Paulo Camillo Penna is confident. “The cement industry helps improve recycling levels through the recovery of contaminated areas, in addition to the reduction of methane gas emissions. For instance, by using co-processing technologies, we help to reduce CO2 emissions through the use of different types of waste – the most recent being the use of Fuel Derived from Urban Waste to replace petroleum coke, the most used fuel in cement manufacturing,” he said.

As part of its goals, the cement industry has established the use of 55% of renewable fuels from sources such as non-recyclable urban waste, sewage sludge, waste tires, agricultural (rice husk, açaí seed, babassu husk) and industrial waste by 2050. In addition, ABCP developed the Solid Waste Energy Recovery Atlas. This tool is part of the latest version of the National Information System on Solid Waste Management (SINIR+) launched by the Ministry of the Environment, which maps the regions with the greatest potential for using waste for energy generation. It also provides interactive information and panels detailing solid waste management across the country.