By Susan Doxtator, Regional Grants Officer at Rotary and Bonaventure Fandohan, Rotary’s Economic and Community Development Area of Focus Manager
Over the past 25 years, the number of workers living in extreme poverty has declined dramatically despite the lasting impact of the 2008 economic crisis and global recession. In developing countries, the middle class now makes up more than 34 percent of total employment – a number that almost tripled between 1991 and 2015. Yet as the global economy continues to recover, we are seeing slower growth, widening inequalities, and not enough jobs to keep up with a growing labor force. [i]
For some low-income people in urban areas of developing and emerging countries, informal waste recycling is a common way to earn income. When organized and supported, waste picking can spur grassroots investment into poor communities by creating jobs and reducing poverty, all while saving money for municipalities, improving industrial competitiveness, conserving natural resources, and protecting the environment.
Rotarians in Brazil, especially in the states of São Paulo and Paraná, have found ways to help the environment with Rotary grants by working with recycling cooperatives. In Brazil, relatively few municipalities have official recycling programs,[ii] so most recyclable materials are collected by waste pickers (catadores) — people who sort through trash for items that can be recycled or reused. The Brazilian government works with organized catadores, who often form recycling cooperatives, in strategies to improve waste management systems. [iii]
The Rotary Club of São Paulo-Vila Alpina (D-4430) has long supported Cooperativa ReciFavela, a recycling cooperative which started sorting recyclables under a viaduct with just one van in 2007. ReciFavela is now based in a warehouse in the Vila Prudente neighborhood with a truck for collecting waste, thanks to support from the municipality of São Paulo, which continues to support the cooperative.
In 2015, ReciFavela’s 20 members could process 1.5 tons/waste per day, but Rotarians and ReciFavela members knew that these results and the catadores’ working conditions could improve. ReciFavela also wanted to increase its membership to provide more jobs, even while processing waste more efficiently to increase cooperative members’ incomes.
The Rotary Club of São Paulo-Vila Alpina partnered with the Rotary Club of RC Bordertown (D-9780, Australia) on a global grant project and received an award of US$48,064 to support ReciFavela’s recycling efforts. The grant funded the purchase of industrial waste sorting equipment and extensive training in cooperative management, financial administration, safety equipment and procedures. In addition, ReciFavela members learned more about promoting recycling and other environmentally friendly practices. They also learned to negotiate new agreements with businesses, malls and residential buildings for recyclable waste pickup.
Through the project, twenty jobs were created, and the 40 cooperative members can sort 4.2 tons of waste per day – nearly tripling the amount sorted prior to the grant. As a result, 100,000 tons of São Paulo’s waste are being recycled in just one year instead of going into landfills. Groups from schools and other youth organizations tour the ReciFavela facilities, allowing cooperative members to highlight the importance of recycling and solid waste management as part of building an environmentally sound future.
By supporting a waste pickers’ cooperative to develop this waste management and recycling project, Rotarians in São Paulo helped created a socially desirable, economically viable, and environmentally sound social business in their community. This example, amongst many others, shows that our powerful network of Rotarians around the world can design and implement global grant projects that will create jobs and promote a cleaner environment.
As our efforts continue around the world, we encourage Rotarians to prioritize sustainability, job creation, a cleaner environment, and community ownership in projects by involving stakeholders from the onset, during the community assessment stage and continuously throughout every aspect of project planning and implementation. Creating jobs and improving the environment are a great combination for achieving a lasting impact.
[ii]Ribeiro, H., Besen, G. R., Günther, W. R., Jacobi, P., and Demajorovic. 2005. Recycling Programs in partnership with scavenger associations as sustainability factor in metropolitan São Paulo, Brazil.