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Brazil established a new national solid waste policy in August 2010 with some fanfare, and the waste management sector was optimistic that a real change was on the cards.
More than a year later, it seems the new law has had little impact, according to Carlos Silva Filho, executive director of the country's special waste handling and sanitation association Abrelpe.
BNamericas spoke with Silva Filho about research and innovation in the sector, private participation, financing for waste management, and what can be done to speed up the law's implementation.
BNamericas: What's the state of research into solid waste management in Brazil - are you seeing much innovation?
Silva Filho: Brazil has no culture of supporting research for the solid waste sector - it's always been seen as a dead-end investment.
However, this is changing and the new national solid waste policy [PNRS] has a lot of merit. Discussions regarding projects are taking place but it will take some time for things to get going.
BNamericas: The new solid waste policy began in August 2010. Have there been a lot of changes in the industry since then?
Silva Filho: In practice, there hasn't really been any major change in the industry. However, the perception of solid waste management has changed a lot. Waste is now being seen as something that is recoverable and something of value. This is spurring new action.
To push things along, two important deadlines are coming up for municipalities. They need to submit their municipal sanitation plans by 2012 and all open-air dumps must be eradicated by 2014.
BNamericas: Which states are furthest along in applying the new rules?
Silva Filho: The state of São Paulo has had its own solid waste management policy since 2006, so it's the state that has been best able to apply new policies. It has created the most solutions and is a pioneer in solid waste management.
BNamericas: What can be done to help apply the policy better?
Silva Filho: The solid waste industry now has access to the most appropriate and complete solutions, but even so, waste management in Brazil is practically the same today as it was in the 1970s. We need to seize the opportunity that the new policy brings and effectively modernize the sector with technologically updated systems.
Although there's a lot that can be done in Brazil, we should keep in mind that not everything that exists in other countries is feasible for us.
To help apply the policy better, it is first necessary for governments to standardize all parameters. We currently have totally different views in the three levels of government [federal, state, and municipal]. We need to standardize concepts and guidelines to push forward a uniform objective.
BNamericas: What about financing for new waste management systems?
Silva Filho: The law says there should be financial and economic incentives, but this is mentioned as a possibility and not as an obligation. Overall, the law talks a lot about change and progress but not much about how the goals will be met.
There aren't many credit lines available for the sector. Some that are worth mentioning are offered by the World Bank, IDB, and [federal savings bank] Caixa Econômica Federal.
Although there is federal funding, very little is actually available from the environment and cities ministries and this is why there is a lack of projects taking place.
BNamericas: What role can public-private partnerships (PPPs) play?
Silva Filho: According to studies carried out in 2010, PPPs should be the main option, if not the only option.
PPPs help provide the resources needed for municipalities' demands. Overall, Brazilian municipalities don't have the borrowing capacity or the technical expertise to manage services. To address this shortcoming, private companies are willing to invest in these operations.
BNamericas: You recently signed some agreements with the city of São Paulo. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Silva Filho: We signed an agreement with the São Paulo environment secretary (SMA) in July which entails the exchange of technology to promote industry innovations. We are currently developing a work plan to implement this agreement and it should be launched at the beginning of 2012.
The plan will entail many actions in terms of research, training and development as well as pilot projects under national solid waste policy. We're still working on plans with SMA.
Another agreement, signed in August with the city of São Paulo, encompasses implementing reverse logistics for electronic equipment. São Paulo is the first city in Brazil to have a permanent service for the collection of electronic waste.
The program has two permanent collection points. One is in Ibirapuera park which is located in the neighborhood of Ibirapuera and the other is in the city council at the Palácio Anchieta building in Bela Vista neighborhood.
BNamericas: Are there plans to expand the program at a later stage?
Silva Filho: The city hall is planning to expand the program in 2012, so it will have 10 collection points instead of just two. From there, a needs analysis will be conducted for the city.
BNamericas: Are you working on any other e-waste management initiatives?
Silva Filho: We signed an agreement with the Pão de Açúcar group in October for a two-part program to collect electronic waste.
In a first stage, four permanent collection points have been established in São Paulo city. We are also considering setting up collection points in all 2014 World Cup host cities.
The second part encompasses monthly itinerant actions starting off in São Paulo state.
About the company
Abrelpe, comprised of 51 companies, aims to promote technical innovation in the solid waste sector.
The association is the Brazilian representative of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), a Geneva-based non-profit organization that aims to promote and develop the solid waste sector.