‘Waste to energy’ Expanding the Geography of Despair and Resistance: Community-based Research with Recyclers in São Paulo Metropolitan Regio
Jutta Gutberlet, PhD
Department of Geography,
University of Victoria
Monday Nov. 14, 2011
Free and open to the public
Outline: Waste is a resource! Through recycling different components are re-inserted in the material cycles. Direct and indirect jobs are created with this activity, particularly in the global South, where a significant part of the population depends on resource recovery. This presentation will introduce the Participatory Sustainable Waste Management (PSWM) project, a University partnership project between UVic and the University of São Paulo, in Brazil. This community-based and action oriented research project takes an integrated approach on capacity building and policy design for more inclusive solid waste management. I will elucidate some of the results achieved over the past 6 years and will highlight and discuss current challenges to selective waste collection and classification with recycling cooperatives in the metropolitan region of São Paulo. Recently large corporations and consulting firms, mainly based in North America and Europe, are promoting energy recovery as a sustainable form of waste management. Waste to energy eliminates the priority of reinserting recyclables in production processes, generates toxic air contaminants and ashes and ultimately perpetuates natural resource extraction. The incineration of recyclable materials collapses the resources basis of the informal and organized recycling sector, threatening the livelihoods of workers. For the informal sector solid waste collection, separation and transformation provides work, income and possibilities for human development. The spreading of waste to energy plants has created a new geography of despair among the most excluded citizens and has initiated a movement of resistance against this powerful industry. I draw on the reconceptualised understanding of waste as a resource and situate the activity of informal and organized recycling within the social economy. Analysis reveals the present geography of despair and social/environmental injustices as a result of current economic and political developments in the solid waste sector. Finally, I discuss the resistance and social mobilization arising from organized recycling groups, using recent events documented in Brazil.
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