São Paulo city shelters a population of more than 11 million people that collectively generate approximately 9,500 tonnes of domestic waste on a daily basis. Only 1.18% of this total is recycled. According to the department of urban cleaning, LIMPURB, 7% of all recyclable material is collected, a mere 41,000 tonnes a year.
Along with the material selectively collected by local authorities, every day, self-employed wagoners walk the streets of the expanded centre of São Paulo in search of cardboard, plastic, iron, paper and any other material they find to recycle.
During our visits to Parque do Gato we met Luís de Lima e Silva, a 51-year-old catador, or collector, who promptly accepted our company when we suggested to follow him through the process of collecting, separating and weighing the rubbish that was no longer rubbish.
We arrived early. Seven o’clock. Luís arrived with his empty cart shortly after us. Ready to go, he made the sign of the cross over his body and we left the association of recyclers of Parque do Gato towards a nearby petrol station equipped with an automatic tyre pump. With the tyres pressure checked and balanced, it was time to worm our way through the city, collecting all we could along the way.
It was a cloudy morning, showers of inconstant rain falling on us regularly. Nevertheless, Luís seemed always motivated to work – be it rain, hail or shine. “I make my own time. If I don’t work, I don’t earn money. This is a question of survival”, he says.
It took us five hours to fill the cart, and to then return to the recycling centre, weigh the different materials we had sourced, wait in line for Luís to be paid and then set off again. We hadn’t imagined or prepared for the physical endurance needed to be a carroceiro, and when it came time to continue for the second round, the pain barrier in our body needed to be broken.
Before we left that afternoon, we met another catador – José Paulino Medeiros Filho, who was possibly the oldest collector of the association. At 77 years old, he is well respected and still works hard. “I haven’t retired yet. I like working and will continue until I am at least 80. After that I’ll find other little things to do. God knows!”, says Jose.
Back on the streets with Luís, in between a word or two, we discovered that our talkative catador was becoming old, that rainy day marking his 52nd birthday. Over lunch, we celebrated his birth rite, sharing a simple yet nourishing meal together at his favourite restaurant.
Along our journey it became apparent that our new friend was gifted with artistic talents. Luís had left his home town of 57,000 inhabitants, called Limoeiro, in Pernambuco, to move southeast to this city of 11 million with a dream in his heart: to record the songs of his own composition.
Over the day we walked around 20 kilometres in eight hours and had the opportunity to listen to him sing some of his songs. Amongst the drone of the traffic and through gritted teeth, as he pushed his laden cart, we tuned in and began to understand how Luis had loved with all his heart, encapsulating his adventures within his songs.
By the end of the second round, we had collected from the streets of São Paulo exactly 274 kg of cardboard and 27 kg of plastic, – a total of R$54,40 (U$29.50).
As our shift came to an end, with weary legs and wet socks, we made our way home. But Luís had chosen to make yet a third and final evening round before finishing for the day. One fine example from the approximate 20,000 catadores in São Paulo city, Luís would arise again the next day to contribute to his sustainable legacy on Earth.
How much is recyclable material worth per kg?
|Material||Bought by ARPAGA from the carroceiros @ — per kg||Sold to bulk recycling facilities @ — per kg|
|Plastic||R$ 1,00 (U$ 0.54)||R$ 1,20 (U$ 0.65)|
|A4 Paper||R$ 0,30 (U$ 0.16)||R$ 0,35 (U$ 0.19)|
|Mixed Iron||R$ 0,15 (U$ 0.08)||R$ 0,19 (U$ 0.10)|
|Cardboard||R$ 0,10 (U$ 0.05)||R$ 0,12 (U$ 0.06)|
|Toilet Paper||R$ 0,10 (U$ 0.05)||R$ 0,12 (U$ 0.06)|
|Magazines & Newspaper||R$ 0,02 (U$ 0.01)||R$ 0,04 (U$ 0.02)|
[media id=7 width=100% height=450]