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Recycling for Life: MIGA-backed bottling project takes on trash


A little-known recycling effort in Curitiba, Brazil, "Recycle for Life," is beginning to have a big impact. The project is teaching people of all ages to alter their behaviors and make recycling an everyday thing, a way of life. Because of its success, bottling plants across the country are beginning to replicate
the effort.

MIGA guarantees worth $21 million helped the project sponsor, SPAIPA S/A Indústria Brasileira de Bebidas (SPAIPA - São Paulo Interior e Paraná), expand operations in 1996. This soft-drink bottling company manufactures and distributes soft-drinks, juices, and other beverages to some 15 million consumers. It has four bottling plants and employs some 3,000 people directly, while creating another 1,700 jobs indirectly through supplier and distributor chains.

The company serves as an example of outstanding corporate citizenship, illustrating through its environmental management program what can be achieved without any expectation of commercial payback.

Putting an environmental philosophy into action

Skyscrapers jut out in relief against the flat landscape that is Curitiba, a city of two million inhabitants in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná. The city is no stranger to the problems that blight urban centers around the world, but, heralded as a model by the United Nations, it is a world leader when it comes to innovative, inexpensive solutions to urban environmental management. The city has received much attention for its creative efforts to promote sanitation and boost nutrition in the city's slums. So it's not surprising that a local private sector company would be a model citizen when it comes to environmental issues.

SPAIPA doesn't just comply with environmental laws; it goes even further, working to minimize the environmental impacts of its operations, products, and packages. The company deals with solid waste and gas emissions in an environmentally sound way, takes care to recycle and reduce the amount of water it uses, and above all, recycles cans and bottles, and not just the ones it produces.

"As a responsible corporate citizen, we must support efforts to implement effective anti-litter campaigns," says Daniele Semmer, SPAIPA's environmental and quality manager. "Directly or indirectly, we're present globally in the lives of billions of people, and it is our job to help protect and preserve the environment."

Clear examples of this philosophy being put into action are the "Escola" and "Recycle for Life" programs, part of an ongoing, innovative recycling campaign launched by SPAIPA on World Environment Day in 1996 to literally get trash off the streets and into recycling plants. The way it works is simple: Teach good environmental habits and reward good behavior.

Working with schools to teach good habits

Through the program, the company works with local schools and organizations such as hospitals and churches, local recycling companies, and the state government. The campaign, which began in Curitiba, now operates in three more cities—Maringá, Araçatuba, and São José do Rio Preto—and serves 350,000 students and individuals in 1,900 schools and other organizations. Only about 10 percent of area schools aren't yet covered by the program.

To kick off each partnership, a SPAIPA representative visits each school to provide environmental awareness training and explain how the award program works. The company works with both public and private schools, and sends its staff of four to some 800 schools a year for first-time and follow-up presentations.

"We want to work with kids and create values," emphasizes Semmer. "It's not just an exchange of cans and bottles."

To help create incentives, the company puts forward the message that what appears to be trash is actually worth money: one US cent per empty can and a quarter cent per bottle, to be precise.

Making recycling fun

In the Santa Quitéria district of Curitiba, a two-story white school house sits inside a high, stuccoed wall. The Escola Atuação ("Performance") has an enrollment of 400 students, ages 2-14. The school has been a member of the SPAIPA partnership program for three years, and brings in about 2,000 kilos of recyclables a year.

In a stark room on the second floor of Escola Atuação, 35 students wearing blue sweat suit uniforms pile into seats and face the front of the room. Shoes scuff back and forth on the parquet floor. SPAIPA environmental trainer Sibele Fioravante quickly commands attention with the simple questions: "What is recycling? Why do we do it?"

Fioravante visits hundreds of schools every year. Her presentation takes her from the history of soft-drink bottling to the nitty-gritty of can and plastic bottle manufacturing, from the garbage heap to the recycling factory.

Fioravante demonstrates cans being compressed, formed into ingots, and then flattened and turned into new cans. She should know the process well, because through the program, the company has collected more than 70 million used aluminum cans, resulting in enough energy saved to light up more than 50,000 houses with four people for a whole month. That's because it takes 95 percent more energy to produce cans made of raw, rather than recycled, bauxite.

Polyethylene Terephtalate (PET) plastic bottles have their value, too. First, they're washed and purified, then turned into tubes and blown into bottles. The resuscitated plastic is used to produce fibers to make ropes, sewing threads, broom bristles, detergent bottles, and so on.

The kids are especially quiet when Fioravante gets to the part about recycling and prizes. She explains that once training is provided, the kids can start bringing their recyclables into school. In exchange for the cans collected, the company provides schools with an array of prizes such as TVs, VCRs, roof fans, photocopiers, and computers. Under the "Recycle for Life" program, which for now is operating only in Curitiba, SPAIPA also collects plastic bottles for recycling and rewards the effort with more child-oriented things, like sporting goods.

"The kids are more inclined to recycle when the prizes are things they really want," says Semmer, who emphasizes that the schools can choose from a list of prizes, each assigned a point value based on the amount of recyclables collected.

SPAIPA is very precise about measuring these amounts, which in dollar terms are worth nearly $500,000. A special recycling person goes to each school to weigh and document the large recycling bags whenever they are full. The materials are then taken to the Curitiba bottling plant, where they are compacted and stored until delivered to the Latas de Aluminio SA (Latasa), the country's only aluminum can manufacturer, and RePET, a plastic container recycler, both based in São Paulo.

For Atuação principal Esther Cristina Pereira, "The awards aren't what's important. It's the lessons learned. The important thing is to see the children thinking about recycling and learning to change their habits. They're participating first-hand in preserving their environment and they are educating their parents."

Innovating for the environment

Another example of SPAIPA's brand of environmental stewardship is the Ecocargo, an electric vehicle designed to offset the negative environmental impact of the stream of delivery trucks that used to choke up downtown roadways and airways. Because of ambient pollution restrictions imposed by the city of Curitiba, the company had to find a way to deliver its products to its customers during normal business hours without using a typical delivery truck. The Ecocargo is a large, oversized wagon, specially designed for SPAIPA to run on streets and sidewalks. The user only needs to direct the wagon.

"For us, the biggest benefit is saving money because we don't have to pay for the diesel to fuel the trucks anymore," says Semmer. The fleet of 13 Ecocargos has replaced 12 trucks. The wagons make six trips daily to mini-warehouses planted throughout the city, where the remaining big-truck fleet takes its wares at night.

Spurring indirect benefits

The project also creates many indirect benefits, such as new employment through its demand for supplies. Neuri Frigotto Pereira, SPAIPA's director of finance, estimates that the company has about 3,000 suppliers and 85 distributors in four cities. "We work with a lot of third parties, too," she says, "such as those who replenish products in supermarkets. We are helping the community build employment."

Last year SPAIPA paid R$122 million in government taxes and fees, Pereira says, which left a net profit of just R$4 million. At issue were the volume of production and distribution, as well as devaluation. "Brazil was facing a tough period of slow growth and high unemployment at the time," Pereira says. But this lower profit will not affect the recycling program: "We have a long-term commitment to recycling," Pereira says.

Serving as a model for others

In June of this year, South American Business Service announced that Coca-Cola Brazil launched a nationwide recycling program, "Programa Reciclou, Ganhou" (You recycled, You won), modeled after SPAIPA's program and to be adopted by all its factories and partners. The goal is to implement the program in all of the company's 46 factories in Brazil by the end of 2002.