Learning from Porto Alegre's Environmental Management Plan

With more than 1.6 million people, the city of Porto Alegre is the largest and most important political, economic, and cultural center in Southern Brazil. It also has the highest living standards among Brazilian cities. So how does the city manage its environment? The city works on six guiding principles for public environmental management in line with sustainable development. Major of which are “local government must endeavour to integrate sectoral policies,” “informed citizen participation” and “integrated environmental education and dissemination of knowledge about the city’s natural and built-in environments” (Menegat 2002, p.197) which all have an impact on participatory mechanism and environment in the city, particularly solid waste management.

Since 1989, basic urban services have been getting the highest priority in the budget (Menegat 2002, p.194). Included in these urban services is the solid waste management. It is the Municipal Environment Secretariat that is tasked to implement and coordinate environmental management policies. Unlike other cities in Brazil, these services are managed by state utilities or private companies (Ibid 2002, p.198).

To have an idea of what kind of wastes Porto Alegre produces, Ballestrim and Dutra (cited in Menegat 2002, p. 201) presents a table on what kinds of wastes the city produces daily.

TABLE 1. Kinds of waste materials produced in the city daily (1998)
Materials Quantity (tonnes) %

Paper: cardboard, newspaper, 10.5 26.3
mixed paper, clean paper

Glass: bottles, jars 6 15

Iron: tins, other iron objects 6.4 16

Other metals: aluminium, copper .06 1.5

Plastics: PET, mixed plastics 12.2 30.6

Non-recyclable materials 4.2 10.6

TOTAL 39.36 100

Almost a third (30.6%) or 12.2 tons of all wastes collected in the city daily are plastics. Different kind of papers account for 26.3% of all wastes or 10.5 tons per day. The irons and glasses come at very close third and fourth respectively in terms of volumes of wastes. Notably, these top four kinds of waste materials (plastics, papers, irons and glasses) are all recyclables.

Integrated Solid Waste Management

The Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) was implemented in 1990 by the Department of Urban Cleansing to deal with the growing waste production and “fight poverty with income generation” (Bortoleto and Hanaki 2007, p. 277).

An integrated solid waste management (ISWM) system combines waste streams, waste collection, and treatment and disposal methods, with the objective of achieving environmental benefits, economic optimization and societal acceptability (White et al. 2002), with the flexibility to channel waste via different treatments if some condition changes. Nevertheless, for an ISWM system to operate effectively individuals must understand their role in the SWM scenario and cooperate with local authorities (Ibid 2007, pp. 276-277).

Through participatory budgeting, the citizens put top priority on public services including SWM. Sustainability, social acceptance and public participation become key concerns for the city in designing the ISWM. The ISWM of Porto Alegre features sustainability aspects, public participation through the former scavengers association and participatory budgeting and program on environmental education. The association was able to ink an agreement with the local government which collects and delivers the wastes from the source to sorting units managed by the association.

Before the ISWM, scavengers or informal wastes collectors simply dug their earnings for a living in the mountains of wastes in a landfill. There was no segregation of wastes. With ISWM which “aims to reduce the generation of solid waste, promote recycling and re-use, and undertake some services itself” (Menegat 2002, p. 201), there is a separation of wastes from the domestic, hospital, and industrial sources. The separation has significantly reduced the volume of wastes and the separate collection of different wastes in designated days has generated income from the informal wastes collectors. Recyclable materials are delivered to sorting units managed by the association of former wastes collectors and sold them in a higher price directly to recycling factories without the middlemen. Organic wastes collected from restaurants and households are used as pig feeds after undergoing a process. Non-recyclable materials go to landfill sites which are environmentally-sound (Ibid 2002, para. 202).

TABLE 2. 2005 data of integrated solid waste management of Porto Alegre
Total solid waste collected per year 317,183 tons
Proportion of employees and inhabitants 2.5 per 1,000
Household solid waste production 0.6 kg. per inhabitant per day
SWM cost per inhabitant US$ 27.06
SWM cost per employee US$ 10,888
SWM cost per year US$ 3,575,320
SWM economic self-sufficiency 51.3%
Total recyclable wastes collected 21,600 tons

Source: Bortoleto and Hanaki (2007). “Report: Citizen participation as a part of integrated solid waste management: Porto Alegre case.” Waste Management and Research, Sage Publications, pp. 276-282.

Comparing the 1998 and 2005 data on waste production, there is a huge discrepancy between the two data. In 1998, the total waste production daily was 39.36 tons while in 2005, with 0.6 kg. waste production per inhabitant daily multiplied to 1.5 million people and divided by 1000 kg. to convert it to ton; the total waste production daily in 2005 was 900 tons. In a span of seven years, there is an increase of 860.64 tons in daily waste production. Interestingly, out of 317,183 tons collected annually, only 21,600 tons were the total recyclable wastes collected or merely 6.8% of the total wastes. Nonetheless, it is still a reduction to the total waste production.
Bortoleto and Hanaki (2007, p. 280) recognizes that “recycling trade has not been well-developed in Porto Alegre, which has only a small trade in potential recyclable wastes.” Plastics remain the top recyclable materials and significant volume of papers is believed to have been brought to recycling centers at the source of separation by independent informal waste collectors.

Impact of environmental education and public participation

The survey of Bartoleto and Hanaki (2007)[1] showed that there is a high knowledge on selective collection service with 83% of the respondents saying they are aware of it. Sixty-four percent or (64.5%) of the respondents indicated that they always practice source separation of wastes and 17.1% said that they usually do it. When asked about their reasons why they do what they do, 30.1% of the respondents credited the media campaigns; 20.2% said that it was due to the information given by the local government; 18.4% accounted it for the environmental education conducted by the local government; 9.2% said that it was from neighborhood meetings. Bartoleto and Hanaki (2007) explained that in the last few years there was a decrease in the campaigns of local government. However, the respondents might have not realized that the city’s campaigns influenced other campaigns.

The publication of the Environmental Atlas of Porto Alegre in 1998 helped in the environmental education and in making the public participation meaningful in the effort towards sustainable development. The Atlas “provides the knowledge that citizens need in order to participate in an informed way” (Menegat 2002, p. 203).

The effectiveness of any environmental management plan is hinged on the participation of the citizens. “A commitment to sustainable development entails adopting participatory mechanisms that reach and involve a wide range of social groups” (ibid, 2000, p. 205).


Bortoleto, Ana Paula and Hanaki, Keisuke. (2007). “Report: Citizen participation as a
part of integrated solid waste management: Porto Alegre case.” Waste Management and Research, Sage Publications, vol. 25, pp. 276-282.

Menegat, Rualdo. (2002). “Participatory democracy and sustainable development:
integrated urban environmental management in Porto Alegre, Brazil.” Environment & Urbanization, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 181-206.

[1] For the result of the survey, see Bortoleto and Hanaki (2007). “Report: Citizen participation as a part of integrated solid waste management: Porto Alegre case.” Waste Management and Research, Sage Publications, pp. 276-282.

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