The Collection and Re-use of Organic Waste for Urban Agriculture in São Paulo

As an extension of the Participatory Waste Management (PSWM) project, research is being carried out in Diadema (a peripheral city in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, Brazil) regarding the potential for collecting organic waste on a door-to-door basis. The waste is then processed at a nearby community garden, where it is used as compost. The products from the garden are distributed among the waste collectors, gardeners, and participants in the local community. In 2008, a pilot project was carried out to explore the viability of such a system.

Context: Diadema is an exclusively urban municipality within the metropolitan region of São Paulo. With over 350 thousand inhabitants, Diadema has a population density of approximately 11,600 per km squared.  The slums that occupy 3.5% of the municipality are home to 23% of the city’s population. The low-income households in these areas spend 50 – 80% of their disposable income on food and still do not meet their daily dietary requirements. This population also faces a multitude of health problems, such as the contamination of land and water supplies by untreated waste. However, the combined commitment of the residents and the municipality of Diadema has stimulated a facilitative political environment for tackling poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. Municipal initiatives include CONSEAD (the Municipal Council on Food Security), theLand and Citizenship project to resurrect the culture of agriculture, the Hortas Comunitarias project to establish community gardens, a people’s restaurant (Restaurant Popular), and a food bank project (Banco Municipal de Alimentos).

Complementing municipal initiatives is the drive of the communities in Diadema to improve their livelihoods and socio-ecological environment. The PSWM project is a collaborative venture between Diadema residents, government representatives, and research institutions (Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and the University of Victoria (U Vic)). In Diadema, the PSWM project helped to establish Vida Limpa, which is a well-organised door-to-door waste collection association. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Olho d’Agua and MOVA (the Alphabetization Movement) support community initiatives in Diadema. Thus, Diadema possesses great potential for implementing planned organic waste collection and processing for local food production.

Aims and Objectives: Theobjectiveof the project was to carry out a feasibility study for the collection, processing and distribution of organic waste for use on community gardens. Of principle concern was the feasibility of the project at three levels: first, the capacity of Vida Limpa to expand its door-to-door collection services to organic waste; second, the capacity and interest within households to commit to separating and providing organic waste for collection; third, the capacity within local government to support the process. The three areas of concern were addressed through participatory and qualitative research processes.

Summary of Research Activities: Initially, capacity assessment and project planning activities were undertaken, including consultation with the municipality of Diadema, the recycler’s co-operative Vida Limpa, and PSWM project participants/employees. Three community gardens were identified as possessing the potential to support the pilot. The garden in Diadema Centro, at Fundação Casa, was singled out by the Vida Limparepresentative, due to its proximity to both posto central (the recycling collection depot in central Diadema) and a collection round neighbourhood. For the purposes of the pilot project, it was decided that this garden provided the best opportunity.

Qualitative and participatory research processes (including households surveys, interviews, presentations, consulation with local residents, and participant observation) were carried out in the selected pilot project area in order to reveal the waste disposal habits of households, their knowledge of the potential and hazards of separating organic waste, as well as their knowledge and receptivity to using organic waste on community gardens. Of the households that participated in the survey, 90.9% were interested in separating organic waste for Vida Limpa to collect. Information brochures were also distributed to households to enhnce environmental education; to inform them of the project, the value of re-using organic waste, and what could and could not be included for collection. Knowledge-building activities were also undertaken with the recycler’s at posto central and the gardeners atFundação Casa. In-depth interviews were also carried out with key municipal representatives in Diadema. The interviews helped to secure the support of the municipality, link the work of different departments (e.g. Limpeza Urbana, Abastecimentos, Habitação), identify potential barriers to success, and secure logistical support for carrying out the pilot (e.g. the provision of a collection cart and scales for weighing the collected material). Constant consultation was also upheld with members ofVida Limpa posto central, to ensure that the pilot was being carried out within their capacity and was not harming other operations.

The pilot project ran for 3 weeks from mid-August. The organic waste was transported using a collection cart provided by Departemento de Limpeza Urabana, and was weighed using scales provided by Departemento de Abastecimentos. In total 341.40 kg (1,254.80 litres) of material was collected, of which 37.09 kg (78.00 litres) was then rejected, resulting in a net weight of 304.31 Kg. On average, 50.72 kg (209.13 litres) was collected per collection round. Of the 40 households that agreed to separate their organic waste for Vida Limpa, 32 (80%) participated at least once.

Post-pilot evaluation included the distribution of surveys among participating households, semi-structured interviews, and summative meetings with stakeholders. In order to evaluate the transferability of the project, the same household survey as initially undertaken in the pilot area was carried out in another neighbourhood whereVida Limpa regularly collects solid recyclable material. The results of the project are currently being analysed.