Brazil’s New Anti-Incineration Coalition Challenges Onslaught of Incinerator Proposals

It was exactly one year ago, in August 2010, when Brazil celebrated the enactment of the Waste National Law. In many ways, the law is a true example of how waste management laws should be written and designed. Nonetheless, despite the huge resistance of groups from the civil society, the law contains an article that has left the door open for incineration industries to enter the country-and they have rushed in with a brutal offensive. The result is that the country is facing a number of projects that threaten the existing reduction and recycling initiatives throughout the country.

In the State of São Paulo alone, the National Movement of Waste Pickers (MNCR) identified 15 incinerator projects in different stages of development. One of the more advanced is planned for São Bernardo do Campo (SBC), a city close to the city of São Paulo.

Many organizations throughout the country have worked against these incinerators, but the fight is unequal. The industries have the support of local authorities and resources that enable an aggressive media campaign through international seminars and articles in newspapers and magazines promoting waste incineration technologies.

In June, a meeting was held in São Paulo, where the Anti-incineration Coalition was formed. With over 30 representatives from 15 social organizations and MNCR, GAIA attended this significant meeting and has since given its support to the Coalition. The Coalition is made up of a wide scope of people and organizations: the MNCR, which itself represents 23 states; Polis Institute and Projecto Colecta Selectiva Brasil-Canada (both of them GAIA members, as is MNCR); and many other organizations, networks and individuals interested in waste issues.

The first collective action by the Coalition was a march in SBC, where protestors reported irregularities in the process for planning the incinerator, as well as made clear the threat that the incinerator poses to waste pickers' livelihoods and to the health of local communities and the environment.

São Bernardo do Campo project: The entrance for the rest of the projects

In an unprecedented move, two state coordinators of the National Waste Picker Movement (MNCR) in Diadema and San Bernardo filed a public lawsuit against Cetesb (São Paulo State Environment Company). The lawsuit, signed by Maria Mônica da Silva and Francisca Maria Lima, requests the annulment of the project to build an incinerator in the Alvarenga neighborhood, on the boundary of the two municipalities. The announcement of the filing of the lawsuit was made during a demonstration held in São Bernardo in July, which brought together approximately 200 waste workers from the area.

The Usina Verde plant, as it is called, will be composed of a Waste Processing and Re-utilization System (Spar) and an Energy Recovery Unit (URE) to generate energy.

According to the São Bernardo City Council, all waste produced in the city (700 tons daily) will be sorted in the complex; only rejected material will be burned, producing enough energy to supply a city of 200,000 inhabitants for 24 hours. The intention is to not use sanitary landfills anymore.

Work will be done in the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model, and the deadline for interested companies to sign on will end on August 30. As of the writing of this article, there has been no interest by consortiums or companies in participating in the project bidding.

Ever since São Bernardo announced the construction of the Usina Verde plant, the waste pickers have been against the idea. "The community is not aware of what the project really entails. The waste pickers will lose their jobs, because wet waste does not burn without dry waste, which is recyclable, and the environment will be damaged", argued Mônica when interviewed in Diário Regional.

According to the São Bernardo City Council, the number of jobs will increase as a result of the project, given that today less than 1% is recycled in the municipality. The target is to recycle over 3% in 2012, reaching 10% in 2017.

Specific law

For the environmentalist Vírgilio Alcides de Farias, who is also the waste pickers' lawyer in the suit, the project is full of problems. First, it would be installed in the limits of the Billings Reservoir, a 127 square kilometer area that provides water to about 1.8 million people. There is a specific law-the Billings Law-that prohibits this type of activity in the reservoir, including the export or import of waste from outside the basin for treatment in the watershed area. Besides, "The incinerator, according to the public notice, has a minimum capacity of 650 tons per day. What is going to be left over to recycle?" asked Alcides de Farias.

The municipal administration has guaranteed that the Energy Recovery Unit (URE) will not generate pollution. São Bernardo also noted that the winning company should provide the municipality with an integrated system of urban cleaning, implement a selective collection program of civil construction waste management, and operate the Spar and the URE.

The communications department of the MNCR has said that the project acts against some basic principles of the National law: "The implementation of incinerators without an efficient program of source segregation [of recyclables] is against the National Policy of Waste which establishes a clear order of priorities; reduction, minimization, recycling and waste treatment, taking as the last alternative the use of energy recovery technologies." They further add that "One fact is that Brazil has only one laboratory able to supervise the testing of emissions of persistent components," as reported in Diario Regional Newspaper.


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