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While attention is focused on large-scale construction and manufacturing, Brazil is quietly experiencing a historic moment in waste management. A new law approved in 2010 has ambitious plans for eradicating open-air dumps by August 2014, as well as implementing reverse logistics across industry.
With the new regulations has come increased public awareness of the need to recycle and cut down on waste. But while the country's 91% aluminum can recycling rate is among the top in the world, there is still room for improvement for materials such as electronic waste.
BNamericas spoke with the technical director of Brazil's Ecopav group, Christiane Dias Pereira, to find out about the company's operations, its work with the public sector, and its plans for growth over the next year.
BNamericas: Ecopav covers a wide range of services. What does the company invest in the most?
Pereira: Ecopav dedicates most of its investments to the environmental sanitation sector, which mainly entails actions from the collection to the final disposal of waste as well as solutions for sustainable production.
Brazil is experiencing a historic moment in environmental preservation policies, which are pushing companies to respond quickly to environmental sanitation demands.
In addition, the public is becoming more aware of the need to maintain an ecologically balanced environment, thus pushing the sector even more.
BNamericas: Who are your main clients?
Pereira: In Brazil, municipalities are responsible for basic sanitation services. Many of them outsource the planning and delivery of these services, so our biggest customers are governments.
However, many business opportunities also emerge from private organizations as they are constantly seeking support in the area of waste management.
BNamericas: How do you see government participation within the sector?
Pereira: There is currently more demand in Brazil's environmental sanitation sector than there is investment. For some time, governments looked the other way when it came to performing sanitation projects. They then sought to compensate by concessioning services such as the collection and final disposal of waste to the private sector.
However, there has been a lack of clear regulations and this has deterred many investors.
Currently, there are signs that this situation is changing. We are on the path to clearer regulations and more companies with open capital are participating in tenders that are being carried out as public-private-partnerships (PPPs).
Moreover, the federal government has shown more interest by way of the national development bank, BNDES. It's offering grants that are aimed at encouraging the sorting and selective collection of domestic solid waste.
BNamericas: Would you say there are any gaps in the new national solid waste law?
Pereira: Yes - the law still lacks explicit regulations. There are doubts among both the industry's public and private sector managers when it comes to the roles they should be playing.
However, the law is important because it defines new points and creates new policies that hadn't existed before.
Valuable support has been provided by waste handling and sanitation association Abrelpe. It has given the new law a lot of attention, promoting technical and legal studies aimed at giving people a better understanding of its proposals and stimulating efficient waste management in general.
BNamericas: What are Ecopav's growth projections for 2011?
Pereira: From 2007 to 2010, company revenue increased by about 40% each year. This demonstrates corporate maturity in our group. We are currently seeing results from the recent creation of Ecoservice, which focuses on technology for environmental solutions.
For 2011, we are hoping to grow beyond 40%. Much of this will be due to opportunities in selective waste collection, recycling and treatment before disposal.
BNamericas: What investments is the company planning to help achieve this growth?
Pereira: In general, our investments go towards staff, processes, technology and developing good working conditions. Some examples of our investments are international training for our managers, operational management via satellites, importing construction and waste recycling equipment, and obtaining certifications such as ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001.
Besides this, we intend to expand our network of sustainable waste management centers (CERs). These receive, treat, recycle and re-introduce waste as raw material for production activities.
BNamericas: Do you work with electronic waste?
Pereira: There are electronic waste components that are highly damaging to the environment if they are not disposed of correctly, and this is a subject that is currently under research by the Ecopav group.
We're working on innovative ideas to tackle the problem, carrying out economic and technical feasibility studies for projects focused on reverse logistics. The company should be kicking off a pilot project in the next few months.
It's important to note that at the moment, there are more cell phone lines in operation than there are people in Brazil. This demonstrates the increasing buying power of the Brazilian consumer, which results in more computers, appliances and other consumer electronics purchases.
We can't just wait until there are mountains of electronic waste spreading across our cities before beginning waste recovery programs. Manufacturers are also aware of this, so we believe that more responsible disposal options will be available to consumers soon.
BNamericas: Does Ecopav currently earn carbon credits?
Pereira: Carbon credits are a great stimulus for the waste disposal market. However, at the moment they are only given to privately run landfills in Brazil.
Even though Ecopav meets the operational requirements through processes such as turning methane into CO2, its landfills are publicly run and are therefore not eligible for credits.
About Christiane Dias Pereira
Christiane Dias Pereira is a civil engineer and lawyer with an MBA focusing especially on environmental management. Operating as a consultant, she has carried out projects for Germany's environment ministry as well as various universities in Germany and Brazil.
About the company
The Ecopav group has 20 years of experience with urban environmental solutions, serving both the public and private sectors. It comprises four companies: Ecopav, Ecoservice, Ecopavia and Loceq, operating in the areas of environmental sanitation, civil construction, road resurfacing and equipment rental.