Meet Our Members – Instituto Polis

Instituto Polis, Brazil: Defending the Right to the City

The Polis Institute – Institute for Studies, Training and Advice on Social Policies – was created in 1987 by a group of civil society institutions, leaders of popular movements and organisations to promote local development in the construction of more just, sustainable and democratic cities. 

Through research, training and technical assistance, the Institute seeks to strengthen the action of civil society in order to prepare them for intervention in the public debate, in the political and cultural processes of society and always placing the agenda of the Right to the City as a central point in their proposal of public policies.

Beth Grimberg, the Institute’s waste coordinator, has also been a driving force behind the National Coalition Against Waste Incineration and the Zero Waste Alliance in Brazil, as well as a major contributor to GAIA in Latin America.

What are Polis’ main areas of work?

Right to the city, right to housing and food and nutrition security, culture, sustainable solid waste management.

What have been your greatest achievements?

The public recognition of the Institute and various demands for the right to the city were integrated into the city’s statute. We also contributed with other institutions to include agroecological food in school meals at national level. In solid waste management, several instruments and guidelines were incorporated such as Producer Responsibility and reverse logistics, rights for waste pickers, landfill closures and inclusion of waste pickers in cooperatives.

In São Paulo, a forum was held, which was very important for the creation of the first 5 cooperatives to sign an agreement with the city’s mayor’s office.

What are the main campaigns you are running?

Zero eviction during the pandemic, urban regularisation with more than 56 partner organizations. The institute is very involved and leads campaigns that say no to incineration, zero waste, programs and policies for integrated waste management, and inclusion of waste pickers.

Recently you have been leading the São Paulo Composta y Cultiva Campaign, what does it consist of?

The Sao Paulo Composta Cultiva campaign aims to prove the feasibility for a large city of changing its waste management model by using 50% of the organic waste it produces and using it as raw material for reuse as compost, taking into account the land- table – land principle.

Also to promote circularity in times of pandemic and improve access of vulnerable sectors to nutrients for soil and food production, substituting expensive imported fertilizers. In addition, it promotes the decentralized creation of community composting using vegetable gardens and the participation of waste pickers. We aim that São Paulo makes progress in a model of selective collection in 3 fractions and to become an example for Brazil and Latin America.

The current mayor of São Paulo signed the campaign pledge to move forward on organics treatment, how does that impact the campaign, where are they now?

The mayor of São Paulo signed a letter of commitment, but unfortunately, he passed away recently. So now we are evaluating how to approach the new mayor. The campaign has been presented in 24 public hearings together with several partner organizations, contributing to the agenda of goals for the city of São Paulo. The campaign was recognized at the executive level.

Another level of incidence is the discussion in the City Council Chamber with a bill to oblige the mayor’s office to implement the selective collection in 3 fractions, to compost the organic fractions of solid waste, to prohibit landfills, and to ban incineration. If this bill becomes a law, it will be a stronger instrument for the renewal of the urban cleaning concession contract that has already completed for 20 years. New contracts could include these points of the law.

What are the main challenges you are facing in Brazil related to your work?

Social inequalities and the intersectional struggle involving class, gender, and race. A major challenge that Brazil faces on the issue of waste is the very strong lobby that promotes incineration of urban waste led by ABREN – Brazilian Association of Energy Recovery, which together with municipal governments in promoting the implementation of this technology. This initiative has grown a lot during the pandemic in partnership with municipal and state governments.