During eXXpedition’s sixth Virtual Voyage, the multidisciplinary crew took part in a virtual discussion with local representatives from Brazil to talk about the local challenges of the global plastics issue. This post summarises the thoughts, ideas, challenges and solutions discussed during the session.
Brazil is the largest country in both South America and Latin America and the fifth largest nation in the world. It forms an enormous triangle on the eastern side of the continent with a 7,400km coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. It has borders with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. The Brazilian landscape is very varied. It is most well known for its dense forests, including the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, in the north. But there are also dry grasslands (called pampas), rugged hills, pine forests, sprawling wetlands, immense plateaus (areas of level high ground) and a long coastal plain.
Brazil is the most megadiverse country in the world. It hosts between 15 and 20% of the world’s biological diversity, with more than 120,000 species of invertebrates, about 9,000 vertebrates and more than 4,000 plant species. Approximately two-thirds of all species worldwide are found in tropical areas, often coinciding with developing countries such as Brazil. Brazil is second only to Indonesia as the country with the most endemic species.
The Plastics Issue
The fourth largest producer of plastic waste in the world, Brazil produces around 11.4 million tons each year. Of this, an estimated 325,000 tons of plastic ends up in the Atlantic Ocean surrounding Brazil and less than 2% is reinserted in the production chain – one of the lowest global rates and well below the global average of 9%. In order to reduce their plastic waste generation, Brazil’s government has begun to introduce legislation that will eventually eliminate single-use plastic around the country. For example, Rio de Janeiro has already banned the use of plastic drinking straws, whereas Brazil’s largest city of Sao Paulo has prohibited the use of petroleum-based plastic bags.
Representatives from Brazil including Daniela Lerario, Brazil Lead at COP26 and Nature Based Solutions Co-lead, Climate Champions, joined a discussion with the eXXpedition crew, providing an insight into the issues it faces in terms of environmental impact and waste management. Read the highlights below:
- Ocean-related issues are still very low on the list of things that people think about.
- The water quality of lakes, rivers and coastal shorelines is degraded by a lack of sewage treatment.
- People are consuming more and generating more waste, but the governments didn’t prepare the cities with the infrastructure that was required to deal with this problem.
- Political leaders are focused on other issues.
- More than 50 million people still live below the poverty line, the poorest people often bear the brunt of plastic pollution.
- Brazil is a large country. Each region requires different approaches and solutions.
“Dumping has been illegal in Brazil for over 10 years, yet it keeps happening. It’s very challenging.”
- Legislation introduced in parts of Brazil has had some success in encouraging Brazilians to adopt better habits.
- The Senate is considering a proposal to outlaw the manufacture, distribution and sale of throwaway plastic, including straws and carrier bags, across the country.
- Communities are lobbying the government to implement waste management policies that protect people living in poverty.
- In every Brazilian municipality, waste picker cooperatives are responsible for sorting trash and selling it to recycling companies. All profits from the sales are equally divided among cooperative workers.
- The Cooperation Network for Plastic (Rede de Cooperação para o Plástico), which unites all chain connections to develop a circular economy during the production process.
- The Industry Forum for Plastics – For a Clean Ocean (Fórum Setorial dos Plásticos – Por um Mar Limpo), focuses on carrying out debates and initiatives to face ocean waste issues. The entity also highlights treaties entered into by big brands and manufacturers to drive reuse, remanufacturing and recycling alternatives.
“I’m from a small city and I see a lot of positive changes already. There’s a local farmers market where everybody goes to buy their groceries.”
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Thank you to 11th Hour Racing who are supporting this work.