Climate and Energy

Recycling becomes an Olympic event

Plastic collected each day at Rio venues can now be transformed into souvenirs of the city

Phellipe Eduardo do Nascimento Silva gets two forms of income from Tijuca National Park, one of the conservation areas closest to the Olympic competition venues in Rio de Janeiro. As well as working as a guide at the park, Phellipe collects recyclable materials, such as polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) bottles left by tourists.

Silva is the head of the Anfitriões do Cosme Velho Cooperative, which currently includes 22 recyclables collectors who collect and recycle plastic themselves, which they then convert into mementos for visitors. “Since we work directly with tourism, we wanted to turn the waste into some kind of material we can present to them,” he said.

The cooperative will be the first to test Remolda, a mobile plastics crushing and moulding machine built using open source blueprints which is transported by motorcycle. The machine transforms recyclable plastic into souvenirs of famous city landmarks such as Sugarloaf Mountain, which is located within the Tijuca park. The invention is the result of a project by WWF Brazil and Holland which uses machines devised by

“The project aims to offer a creative way to use plastic taken out of Guanabara Bay and generate income for the communities,” says Anna Carolina Lobo, conservation coordinator of the Atlantic Forest Programme at WWF Brazil.

Remolda will circulate through the streets of Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics. In addition to creating miniature Sugarloaf Mountains, souvenirs will include stylised houses symbolising the community of Guararapes, Vila Candido and Cerro-Corá, where the partnering cooperative is based.

“I wasn’t expecting to be able to move the machine from one place to another. I expected to create a workshop and produce things. And now we have this mobile workshop, which is fantastic,” Silva told Dialogo Chino.

Remolda requires 30 grams of plastic to produce the stylised Sugarloaf Mountain memento, in a process that takes about two minutes. According to WWF Brazil, any kind of plastic can be used, but plastics like those used in computers, which emit toxic gases, should be avoided. Most of the testing was done with PET water bottles.

Plastic trash

Since cleanup operations in Guanabara Bay began to intensify in the run-up to the Games, about 40 tonnes of waste have been removed from the water by ecoboats every month, according to the Department of Environment.

Twelve ecoboats and 17 ecobarriers installed at the outlets of rivers and channels which flow into the bay are in place to minimise the amount of floating rubbish that reaches the ocean. Most of the waste consists of bottles and other plastic materials.

“Plastic pollution in the oceans is a serious global problem,” Lobo said.

China is the world’s largest producer of plastic, owing to low production costs and high demand from the packaging and automotive sectors, according to industry data. Meanwhile, Latin America produces so-called bioplastics, which despite being made of materials less carbon-intensive than petroleum, can take as long to biodegrade as conventional plastics.

“Improper disposal of this material generates enormous environmental impacts, from it accumulating in cities to contamination of rivers and oceans,” added Lobo. WWF will mount an environmental education station with Remolda during the Rio Olympics in an attempt to address this problem.

Olympic collectors

For the first time in the Olympics and Paralympics, collectors of recyclable materials will be working at competition venues. Teams composed of 240 members of 33 cooperatives from three networks will sort materials in the Olympic Park at Barra da Tijuca, in Deodoro, and in the Maracanã and Engenhão stadiums.

According to the organising committee, the material will be sold and the proceeds will go to the collectors. It is expected that about 3,500 tonnes of material will be collected every day at each of the four competition sites.