Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


Recycling of Waste in Brazil

Andréa Novais

Andréa Novais

The Brazil Business


This article will give an overview of the recycling process in Brazil, highlighting its current status and the measures that had been taken in order to solve this problem.


Brazil produces 240 thousand tons of waste everyday. Out of this amount, only 2% is recycled. The rest of it is destined to landfills, causing the pollution of the soil and aquifers, besides exposing the population to several diseases.

Waste production is directly connected to consumer behavior and lifestyle, so as the Brazilians are economically emerging and being able to consume more, they necessarily end up producing more waste, a phenomenon that the government can not seem to follow.

The main barrier for recycling in Brazil is the lack of infrastructure: only 62% of the Brazilian population have access to regular garbage collection and the collection of recyclable material is very rare. There is also the lack of measures that can really educate the population about the importance of recycling.

Recycling in Brazil has been a very informal activity, performed mainly by waste pickers, who are extremely poor people who see recycling as a way of earning some extra money. As only a few cities have the collection of recyclable material or recycling units, waste pickers turn out to be the only alternative for those who want to recycle their waste.

Most Commonly Recycled Materials

The most commonly recycled materials in Brazil are:

  • Paper;
  • Aluminum can;
  • Steel can;
  • Tires;
  • Plastic.

Out of these five items, cans, plastic bottles and paper (specially cardboard paper) are the most recycled in Brazil. This is due to the fact that they constitute and economic activity.

Brazil was ranked as the world champion in recycling cans for the past five years. In 2007, more than 96% of the cans available in the market were recycled. So the incentive most Brazilians are seeking is, overall, monetary.

Policies and Incentives

Several programs that try to promote conscientization of the recycling benefits were created all over the country, specially in big cities, where the waste production is more significant. Most of them are educational, but there are also some municipalities that provide the collection of recyclable material at least once a week and/or create recycling units.

Also, as an attempt to encourage the industry to get involved in the recycling cause, the government is planning a partnership with private companies: the ones that invest in recyclable material collection and conscientization programs would have their ICMS reduced. The project was not approved yet, but it would definitely bring many benefits not only to the industry, but to the population as well.

Regardless on the tax reduction, many companies have been working to reduce the waste production or to incentive recycling. Many of them have been using recycled packing for their products, some others have supported projects and promoted conscientization of its consumers.

The most famous – and maybe successful one – is the one of encouraging people to have a reusable bag instead of getting several plastic bags when shopping at the grocery store. Such initiative has become law in São Paulo and 12 other capitals.

According to this law – that is going to come into force in 2012 – retail establishments are prohibited of providing its costumers with plastic bags. The initiative has led to some controversy, as people have been wondering what is going to happen if they do not have their “ecobags” with them when they decide to stoop by the grocery store.

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