Community Field Note


Solid Waste Management in Impoverished Communities in Brazil

Abstract: Throughout the month of May, I am doing research in an underprivileged neighborhood in Brazil. The systems for waste management and recycling are not very good today, but a few motivated people in the community have new ideas and are trying to make changes happen. Check out what I learned!

IntroductionHow do nations meet their communities’ needs? 

In the United States, we are lucky to have a government that knows the importance of taking care of our environment. We already have systems set up for trash collection and recycling, and people know how to use them well.

Trash on the street waiting to be collected

Solid waste management is a basic need in every community, because having trash and pollution on the streets you live on is bad for your health and your hygiene! In some parts of the world that are still growing and becoming more modern, governments are just starting to meet needs like collecting trash and providing clean water.

Brazil is a very big nation and must provide these services for all of its communities, which can be very difficult. In Brazil, there are many recent laws were written to help reduce solid waste and improve the way it is collected and treated. One big policy is to return the solid waste to the factories that produced it, and have them recycle it.

At the moment, most trash goes to small landfills in every city. These are supposed to provide a way to dispose of waste without bringing toxins to the environment. However, may of these landfills still do not work properly and are expensive to operate. According to the website of the Brazilian government, the collection of recyclable materials is only available in 8% of the country[1].

What community need did I learn about?

This week, I talked to the people in my community about solid waste management in their neighborhood.  One or two days each week, trucks from the city come around to collect trash in the community. However, there is no schedule, so people keep their trash outside all the time until it is finally collected. People are supposed to leave their trash bags right in front of their houses, and some people have a small bin in front of their house to hold the trash.  However, sometimes when people don’t want the trash to sit outside their house, many families dump their trash on one corner, which disturbs the whole community and leaves a bad smell. The community wants to create one specific place, like a dumpster, where the trash can be placed until it is collected, but they do not have the resources.

This is an area where people have left trash on the street

Another problem is that there are no trashcans on public streets, so people throw their trash on the street and the grass. Families also do not recycle in their homes because they don’t know about it, though sometimes people come around and ask for certain recyclables.

Also, there is a lot of plastic waste because grocery stores and restaurants use a lot of plastic to store and sell food because it is cheap. Plastic bags do not cost extra at the grocery store, like in some places around the world, so they are used often. In most of Brazil, tap water is not drinkable. People must buy filtered water or filter it before they can drink it.

Why does the community have this need? 

Right now, the only way to recycle is within the community. There aren’t any government programs. There are three people in the community who walk around the neighborhood with bags each morning, asking for glass, aluminum and other recyclables. They bring these recyclable items to a factory in another city, and they receive money for the amount of recyclables they bring.

This benefits the environment because the items are being recycled, and it benefits the community member whose job it is, because that is how they make their income. However, people should be learning about the need to recycle and begin to recycle in homes and schools.

People litter on the street because there are no trashcans.

Unfortunately, there is still not much talk about the environment or action to help it out in the community. Many people don’t have much knowledge about environmental issues, or they are focused on other things. One community member told me that many people are waiting for programs to be initiated, though I think it would be much better if they acted themselves. In schools, there is some education about recycling and respecting the environment. However, they cannot actually practice recycling because the system is not in place. Because youth still do not know very much about how we must take care of the environment, it is hard for them to stand up and take action.

Is this need being met? How?

While most people in the community don’t know much about the environment, there are some people trying to spread new ideas. One of my friends in the community wants to start a composting project. His idea is to set aside a small piece of land in the community for compost, and people can bring their food waste in it. Composting is the process of turning left-over food products into nutrient-rich soil.

Two large sources of waste in the community are a shrimp factory and a chicken factory, which produce a lot of food waste that goes to the landfill. However, with compost, these factories could use their waste-products to help benefit the community instead of disturbing it. A first step is motivate these businesses to change their ways. People must convince them to separate their garbage, and bring this food waste to the compost instead of just throwing it all away.

A coconut-shaped trashcan!

Also in my community, the local Community Association has a plan to install trash and recycling bins on the streets of the neighborhood. Right now, there are none. The community members are planning to make these boxes out of wood and paint them themselves. The desired result will be that people will not throw trash on the sidewalk or on the street. The recycling will be collected by the recycling business, and it will be easier to find. When they install the trashcans, they will also have information sessions in the school and the health clinic, so people can learn about the importance of throwing out trash and separating recycling.

There are several other groups in nearby neighborhoods trying to make changes in the way that trash and recycling are collected. In the city of Ilhéus, the garbage cans in the city are all in different shapes like fruits, soccer balls, and animals, and colorful to attract people to throw out trash. Another community nearby has started a program for recycling milk cartons and using the money for community activities.

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