“Wherever we pass, we make the difference! […] I have learned to speak, to fight for my rights and to help other conquer their rights”
Monica, a leader of the catadores(recyclers) in Diadema, Brazil
Globally, the number of commodities, goods and people circulating is growing. These flows generate growing amounts of waste, creating pressing management challenges. Increasingly, local governments, environmentalists, academics and community members are faced with the challenge of finding waste management strategies that are “socially, economically and environmentally adequate” (Gutberlet, 2012, p. 19).
Currently, landfills are still the most popular waste management option. However, rising operation costs as well as concerns for community and environmental health have caused managers to seek alternative waste management options. In addition updated legislation, such as for example the 2011 federal law on solid waste management in Brazil, requires municipalities to find better solutions for their waste challenges.
Incineration, or ‘Waste to Energy’ (WtE) technology, has been publicized as ‘clean technology’. However, there are many environmental and social problems associated with incineration, including air pollution and loss of employment in other waste management areas (see our blog “Waste to Energy: Wasting Resources and Livelihoods”for more details).
“Inclusive waste management translates into opportunities to generate work, to redistribute income and to benefit environmental health” (p. 22)
Inclusive waste management means managing waste with reuse and recycling practices, while aiming to promote social equity and environmental sustainability.In many countries, inclusive waste recycling has been gaining attention as it addresses many of the complications associated with landfills and WtE technologies. The process involves recovering certain types of refuse from the waste stream and transforming them into usable goods.
By recognizing the value of discarded materials, recycling has the potential to benefit the environment and local communities. Unlike landfills and incineration, recycling reintroduces materials into the production cycle, which reduces pressure on virgin natural resources. Recycling also reduces the release of dangerous greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, which are byproducts of the other waste treatment methods.
Resource recovery can contribute to local livelihoods and economies. In countries with large income inequalities such as Brazil, as much as 1% of the population earns a living by collecting recyclable materials. Increasingly, recyclers in Brazil’s urban areas are organizing into cooperatives (see our blog “Waste, Poverty, and Recycling” for more details). These groups empower the recyclers and legitimize their work.
In the sorting and processing stages alone, recycling supports “10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration” (ILSR, 2006, n.p.). Recycling also benefits economies at the national scale. In Brazil, it is estimated that if all recyclable materials were diverted from the waste stream, the recycling sector would contribute more than 5 billion US$ to the national economy (IPEA 2010).
The environmental and social consequences of landfills and incineration indicate the need for a different approach to managing waste. Managers should look towards inclusive recycling to address the impacts of landfills and incineration and benefit the environment, communities and economies. Ultimately, implementing inclusive recycling schemes can improve human and ecosystem health and contribute to achieving the Millenium Development Goal of poverty alleviation.
This blog is based on: Gutberlet, J. (2012). Informal and cooperative recycling as a poverty eradication strategy. Geography Compass, (6), 19-34.