In order to respond to this question, CoLab traveled to Sao Paulo, visited numerous waste picker cooperatives, and spent hours in conversation with both the catadores (waste pickers) and the local chapter of the national waste picker union, Rede CataSampa. With a goal of leveraging all that MIT has to offer to improve working conditions in one of the most marginalized populations in Latin America, we recently launched three projects:
Grease Car Project. The first phase of this project is to convert the catadores’ eleven diesel vehicles to run on filtered waste vegetable oil, a material they already collect. This step will eliminate the cost of purchasing large quantities of diesel and promote the use of alternative fuel. The next step is to teach catadores how to convert cars and assist in establishing a sustainable business within the network of twenty waste picker cooperatives.
Plastics Project. Our aim is to design a low-cost, easy-to-use, and easy-to-replicate flake processor that would allow catadores to move up the value chain by giving them the opportunity to sell directly to manufacturers that either pelletize the flakes or use pellets to make new products. The local union of waste pickers, Rede CataSampa, is interested in implementing the processor in a centrally located cooperative that would then serve a network of twenty other SP recycling co-ops. Adding to that, our partner organization, Giral, is looking to bring on an MIT student summer intern to develop and write a business plan for implementation of the PET flake processor in São Paulo and other Brazilian cities.
Study on Municipality Supported Cooperatives. CoLab is developing a summer research project that examines models used by cities worldwide, incorporating municipality-supported trash picker cooperatives into their overall waste management system. MIT graduate students will ultimately travel to Brazil where they will combine knowledge with students from FGV (Fundação Getulio Vargas), our partner university in Brazil, to prepare a report that presents the best possible model for municipality-supported recycling cooperatives in Sao Paulo. This project was born out of a request from São Paulo’s Secretary of Green, Eduardo Jorge Martins, who is responding to Mayor Gilberto Kassab’s commitment to constructing new waste picker cooperatives.
Post by Ana Bonomi and Libby MacDonald.