Bioplastics in Brazil: a new technology! Understanding the challenges in waste management

In Brazil, according to the National Solid Waste Policy – PNRS (Law No. 12,305 / 2010), waste management must guarantee maximum reuse and recycling and minimization of waste – which do not have technical and economic viability for recycling. Management is initiated primarily by waste pickers’ cooperatives and occurs significantly through the contribution of steps that favor the reverse logistics proposed by PNRS 2010 in terms of: door-to-door collection, transport, sorting and pre-processing (Lima & Mancini 2017). These associations establish partnerships with municipal selective collection programs, however, a large portion of these workers also operate independently from the public authorities, informally (Magni & Günther 2014). Waste pickers are generally not paid for collection and sorting services and their income is obtained from the sale of collected and recyclable materials. The main materials that make up its lace are cardboard and plastic, respectively. (Cempre Magazine 2019).

The SIMBIO Brazil team conducted semi-structured interviews in some Cooperatives in the State of São Paulo. However, the cooperative members claim to still be unaware of the waste of bio-based plastics, in terms of differentiating them from conventional plastics. In addition, some biodegradable food packaging is destined for Cooperatives. As they do not have trade for sale as a recyclable product, consequently these packages end up in landfills. The administrators of a Cooperative in the State of São Paulo-SP, Brazil:

“We only know the plastic bag from supermarkets as a biodegradable product. We separate and recycle it together with bags made from conventional plastics.”

“Whether other bioplastic packaging arrived here, we are unaware. There is no market for most food packaging (…) these are discarded for waste and are sent to landfills.”

In addition, Brazil is still incipient in the practice of composting. According to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics – IBGE, there are approximately 80 composting plants across the country. However, most are deactivated due to the lack of policies for the collection, sorting and processing of the collected organic matter. Currently, according to IBGE, composting plants represent only 4% of the destination of the organic fraction of solid waste generated in Brazil.

Although waste pickers still do not recognize bioplastics, Brazil already has the green plastic known as I’m green, produced by a petrochemical company. I’m green polyethylene is a plastic produced from sugar cane, a renewable raw material, while traditional polyethylene uses raw materials from fossil sources, such as oil or natural gas. For this reason, the I’m green polyethylene captures and fixes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its production, helping to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. In an interview with the Brazil team, petrochemical company’s commercial leader in sustainable solutions states:

Currently, the production capacity is 200 thousand tons of ethylene from renewable sources. The biopolymers that Braskem produces can be recycled just like conventional polymers, (…) they can only be differentiated by measuring the age of the carbon in the resin.”

Brazil still has a long way to go in terms of integrating waste pickers into the country’s selective collection, as well as adding information to these institutions on the advancement of new technologies for the production of bioplastic packaging, on what is biodegradable, recyclable or not. The SIMBIO Brazil team will make a significant contribution to the interaction between private companies, waste pickers’ cooperatives and the local government. Through the Social Innovation Lab method, we have been dialoguing with all these stakeholders in the search for improvements and a consensus on the current bio-based packaging supply chain, by identifying barriers and future opportunities.

References:

Brazil (2010) Law No. 12,305. Federal Official Gazette of Brazil, Brasília, DF, No. 147, Section 1, p. 3, August 03rd. Available at: https://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2007-2010/2010/lei/l12305.htm (accessed 22 December 2020).

Cempre Review (2019) Selective collection profile, p. 24. Available at: http://cempre.org.br/upload/CEMPRE-Review2019.pdf (accessed 21 December 2020).

Lima NSS and Mancini SD (2017) Integration of informal recycling sector in Brazil and the case of Sorocaba City. Waste Management & Research 35: 721-729. DOI: 10.1177/0734242X17708050.

Magni AAC and Günther VMR (2014) Cooperatives of waste pickers as an alternative to social exclusion and its relationship with the homeless population. Saúde e Sociedade 23: 99-109. DOI: 10.1590/S0104-12902014000100011.

National Movement of Waste Pickers (2021) National News. Available at: http://www.mncr.org.br/noticias (accessed 20 May 2021).

By Lais Roncalho Lima, May 24 2021.

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