Yet urgent action is needed. Data from the Brazilian Association of Public Cleansing and Waste Management Companies (ABRELPE) show that almost 60% of all urban waste collected was sent to landfill sites in 2017 while the other 40% was disposed in dumpsites or uncontrolled sites. Meanwhile, waste generation continues to grow.
At the same time, local authorities have had to ensure they marshal the 20,000 waste pickers who work São Paulo’s streets, in order to put their activities to good use to segregate waste. Efforts are also underway to clean up pollution caused by waste in the city’s Tietê river.
Cornering the markets
The composting facilities have become beacons on the city’s pathway to sustainable waste management. Sensibly, the project designers did not start with households. Instead, they concentrated on the retail trade, and an obvious source of food waste – street markets.
From its base in Lapa, the city’s first composting plant takes in biowaste collected from around 50 street markets as well as green waste from parks and gardens. The facility, taking up about a third of a hectare, can treat up to 60 tonnes of organic waste per week and produce approximately 900 tonnes of compost each year.
Blueprint for composting
Dwarfed by the hundreds of high-rise blocks of flats and office buildings, busy highways and bustling crowds, the inconspicuous composting plant employs just four people. Nevertheless, it represents a major forward-looking step in a city wrestling with waste policy and environmental technology.
Since the first plant viability assessment was completed in 2016 by the Coalition, Lapa has become a blueprint for São Paulo’s next 15 expected composting developments. This means expanding food waste collections from most of São Paulo’s 883 weekly street markets, which together generate almost 200 tonnes of biowaste per day.
The fulfilment of these plans will be a major landmark in the city’s environmental performance, by both reducing mountains of untreated food waste in landfills and slashing the amount of methane they release. Indeed, by diverting 15,000 tons of organic waste annually from landfills, the first five composting plants have already prevented 495 tonnes of methane emissions each year.