Circular economy

Startup brings technology and cooperatives together to engage companies in waste management

Andrea Vialli | Updated on January 15, 2018

Recycler using a platform to report volumes.

President of a recycling organisation

Brazil produces rubbish as if it were a rich nation, but still disposes it like an underdeveloped country. In large cities, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, each Brazilian produces an average of 1.2 kg of rubbish per day and forty-one per cent of urban waste produced is still disposed of without being treated, often in open-air landfills, known as “lixões”. This situation is common in the hinterland of the country, but even the federal capital, Brasília, known for the prized architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, continues to send its rubbish to landfill.

The National Solid Waste Law, passed in 2010, brought modern waste management concepts to the country, but its application has yet to make a significant difference. Among its objectives was to bring the lixões to an end by 2014. But many cash-strapped councils protested and the deadline was extended to 2018. Even though Brazil recycles large volumes of some materials – the country is the world-leader in recycling aluminium cans, with ninety-eight per cent returned to the industry – not all cities have currently implemented structured selective collection. Many depend on cooperatives of waste pickers, often working informally.

Under the law, industry should take responsibility for ensuring the waste that it generates is handled effectively – and this extends from a simple shampoo bottle to a computer at the end of its working life. Aiming to connect the two ends of the chain – industry and the waste picker cooperatives – a startup, New Hope Ecotech, came into being just over a year ago, the brainchild of two young managers in São Paulo: Luciana Oliveira and Thiago Carvalho Pinto.

After completing an MBA together at the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, they looked for a business model with social impact. Luciana, who had already worked at Google, had an affinity for technology. Their new company was born with the intention of uniting these two universes.

New Hope Ecotech’s business plan is to use software solutions for data management so that companies producing consumer goods pay the pickers for the volume of waste that they remove from the environment and return to the production process. Everything is recorded in an online system, which provides real-time transparency to the process. The seed capital for the company came from a $70,000 prize from Kellogg itself, which has incentives for students who stand out in leadership and entrepreneurship.

“The majority of pickers have low incomes because the raw materials they recover are commodities and their market value varies greatly. Our business ensures the companies pay these workers directly for the waste they collect, without intermediaries,” explained Luciana Oliveira, founding partner. The cloud software manages indicators such as the quantity of material that arrives at the cooperatives – classified by type of waste – who supplied it and date of entry. The quantity of material sold to the recycling industry is also stored in the software, and reports compiling this information are generated from the data. New Hope Ecotech has also developed a free management platform for the recyclers. According to Luciana, the company’s major differential lies in bringing technology and transparency to a sector that is still very informal.

Currently five companies producing food and drink are using the services of the startup, the majority small and medium sized. They include the beverage manufacturers Beba Rio; which makes natural juices and coconut water, and +MU. The ABC brand, which markets products such as soysbean oil, olive oil and tomato extract and is part of the Algar Agro group, is the first large client of New Hope Ecotech. Through these clients the company has already been able to return one million tonnes of waste to the production chain and the first payments to the waste pickers will be made in October – proof, according to Luciana, of the viability of the system.

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Published on November 03, 2016

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