Healing waste and food systems in Diadema, Brazil

Posted on: March 22nd, 2012 by and

“The transformation of integrated organic waste management from concept into material practice stands as a political statement advocating a different socioenvironmental future”
(Yates, J., & Gutberlet, J., 2011, p. 2117)

The current model of waste production in Brazil is unsustainable and is resulting in “a myriad [of] environmental and health hazards” (Yates, J., & Gutberlet, J., 2011, p. 2115). To read about food production and waste in the city of Diadema, please see our previous blog, Food Production and Waste in Diadema, Brazil.

Recently, efforts have been made to reduce these hazards and to move toward a healthier system. In Diadema, informal recyclers, recycling co-operatives, and a local recycling program have helped reduce the amount of recyclable inorganic materials in landfills.

Attention has also been directed towards reducing organic food waste in landfills. Recently, the local government in Diadema supported the establishment of a network of community gardens, called hortas comunitarios, located on municipal land. The government has also started food banks, affordable ‘people’s restaurants’, and a project to revive the cultural importance of agriculture.

As part of the Participatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM) project, a pilot program was carried out in Diadema exploring the potential of Integrated Organic Waste Management (IOWM). IOWM is a cyclical process which aims to recirculate the value of waste, by:

  • Creating options for waste treatment
  • Connecting urban agriculture with solid waste management
  • Formalizing recycling processes through: awareness in the community, compensation for involved parties, and development of regulations
  • Involving multiple political agents

During the pilot program, catadorescollected food waste from 41 households twice a week and brought it to a local community garden.There, gardeners processed the waste to produce nutrient-rich soil for the garden. The arrangement was mutually beneficial; in exchange for the food waste, gardeners gave some of the food grown in the garden to the catadores, participating households, and youth in a nearby rehabilitation centre.

While the IOWM pilot program had many positive outcomes, there were some technical, social and political tensions which limited its success. Some residents complained that collection of food waste was too infrequent, leading them to put their food waste in the garbage. A lack of awareness about the potential benefits of the program also limited participation. Catadores noted that some of the households that did not participate felt hostility towards the recyclers, or were ambivalent to selective waste collection. There were also issues in the community gardens. In Diadema, many are unstable because of: conflict, lack of organization, and insecure land tenure.

There were also political challenges, including government organization. Catadores complained that in meetings with officials, verbal support was often given to the recyclers’ concerns, but didn’t result in any active changes.

The partnership between catadoresand gardeners is helping to improve socioecological conditions by “reconfigur[ing] uneven urban environments” (Yates, J., & Gutberlet, J., 2011, p. 2121). Globally, marginalized groups are increasingly turning toward waste recovery as a way to support themselves. Inclusive waste management has great potential to empower marginalized groups and alter global waste flows.

In many places, these socioecological changes are already taking place. What is needed, then, is a deeper understanding of the overarching trends and the formation of a theoretical reconfiguration framework to apply to urban environments worldwide.

*This blog is based on:

Gutberlet, J., Yates, J (2011). Reclaiming and recirculating urban natures: integrated organic waste management in Diadema, Brazil. Environment and Planning, 43, 2109-2124.

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