Brazil Develops National Strategy for Urban Organic Waste

The Brazilian Ministry of the Environment (MMA) has embarked on the development of the National Strategy for Urban Organic Waste, aiming to prevent food waste, promote composting, and encourage organic waste recycling. This initiative is poised to reduce methane emissions, increase recycling rates, and foster the production of natural fertilizers.

The National Strategy will expedite the closure of landfills, enhance waste reuse potential, and stimulate urban agriculture and agroecological practices. Supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Pólis Institute, this endeavor will forge a common agenda across various sectors in the country and promote the valorization of organic waste.

One of the strategy’s objectives is to increase Brazil’s potential for waste reuse. Recent data from the National Information System on Sanitation indicates that only 2% of urban solid waste collected, amounting to around 64 million tons, was recycled in 2022, including recyclable dry materials and compostable organics.

According to the National Solid Waste Plan, approximately 45% of urban solid waste in Brazil is organic, mainly comprising food scraps and garden waste. Improper disposal in landfills and open dumps ranks as the second-largest source of methane emissions in the country, as per the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removal Estimates System (SEEG).

Brazil ranks fifth globally in methane emissions, with a greenhouse potential 82.5 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The country was one of over 155 signatories to the “Global Methane Pledge,” a pact signed at COP26 in 2021 to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels.

“Diverse countries already have or are building similar waste strategies, such as South Africa, Chile, Argentina, the United States, Australia, Uruguay, and Peru,” stated Adalberto Maluf, MMA’s National Secretary for Urban Environment and Environmental Quality. “Constructing a national strategy to prevent and manage urban organic waste is essential to support and guide decision-making, especially for municipal managers, to develop initiatives diverting waste from final disposal units, such as landfills and open dumps.”

Waste Prevention

Waste generation prevention will be a priority in the strategy, aiming to combat hunger, reduce food waste, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and alleviate waste management costs. The UNEP’s 2024 Food Waste Index reveals that over 1 billion meals per day were wasted in households worldwide in 2022.

The same report indicates that 783 million people suffered from hunger, and one-third of humanity faced food insecurity.

In Brazilian households, it is estimated that 94 kilograms of food per capita are wasted annually in domestic consumption. This data stems from a pilot study conducted last year in five distinct regions of Rio de Janeiro.

“Preventing food waste can drive efforts against food insecurity and climate change, which are two key issues led by Brazil within the G20 framework. This dual focus not only alleviates pressure on our food systems but also addresses two of the most critical issues of our time: ensuring nutritious food reaches those most in need and mitigating global warming,” emphasized Alberto Pacheco Capella, UNEP’s representative in Brazil.

Composting and Landfill Closure

Composting, according to Victor Argentino Vieira, Solid Waste Projects Coordinator at the Pólis Institute, is a “viable and flexible” alternative to aid in addressing part of the problem, such as the closure of nearly 2,500 still-existing landfills in the country.

“Composting, along with food waste prevention, are the cheapest waste management alternatives after sanitary landfills,” Vieira stated. “The applicability of composting at various scales, from domestic to industrial, is objectively justified in the Brazilian context, given that about 70% of municipalities have fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, and 90% have fewer than 50,000, making technologies reliant on a large waste flow economically unfeasible.”

Social Inclusion

Another focus of the strategy will be leveraging technology to promote social inclusion, local development, and the adoption of agroecological practices in various cities across Brazil. There will be integration of waste picker organizations in providing selective waste collection services for organic waste or operating composting yards, as well as selling the produced organic compost.

According to a study by the Pólis Institute in partnership with MMA, composting systems generate 3.5 to 11 times more jobs per ton than landfilling. This indicates the potential for job creation and income generation with the national implementation of this strategy.

Another study suggested that São Paulo could eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by adopting more robust recycling programs. The report also claims that the city could create 36,000 jobs by diverting 80% of its urban solid waste to recycling and composting initiatives.

“Composting is a source of income, a way to see that the waste you generate also brings positive things for waste pickers and the environment,” stated waste picker Edinéia Rodrigues dos Santos from VerdeCoop in the Pólis Institute’s study with MMA.

This comprehensive strategy underscores Brazil’s commitment to sustainability, waste management, and climate action, aligning with global efforts to address environmental challenges and promote inclusive development.