Waste recycling: an opportunity for a better future

Waste can be thrown away by some, at the same time creating an opportunity for work for others as well as improving the environmental conditions in the community. Our colleagues from Surface Chemistry and Functional Chemicals in Itupeva, Brazil had heard about Itupeva’s Waste Recycling Cooperative (IWRC), a local organization set up to provide employment for former street sweepers and other jobless people. The majority of these people lack formal training and education, reducing their chances for employment in the labor market. The working conditions at IWRC were not safe and the required awareness about health and safety were inadequate causing many people to quit. Health, safety and environment being traditionally high on the agenda of AkzoNobel, our skilled and experienced colleagues decided to help.

First a group of volunteers visited the Itupeva Cooperative to analyze the conditions and interview the workers to identify future actions. They were shocked to see the poor conditions in which the work had to be carried out. One volunteer said: ‘It is in an inhumane state. I wish I could bring my children to observe this reality and realize how important this kind of work is’. The volunteers reported back to their colleagues and a 2-year plan was made to improve the profits of the Cooperative as well as the quality of life of its employees. More AkzoNobel employees would have to be involved in the voluntary work through their skills and knowledge by giving lectures about HSE&S, prepare the instruction materials to teach and motivate the workers how to better and safer organize the workplace.

And last but not least the awareness of our own employees at the Itupeva site about the effect of selectively collecting recyclable waste had to be improved. To this end an Environment Day at the site was organized in June. The number of garbage cans was increased after that, and as a result the amount of recycling waste for the Cooperative has expanded considerably. In total 22 volunteering colleagues were involved, divided into groups to carry out actions for several purposes, including distributing a newsletter in the community to improve selective collection of waste, as well as convince the Environmental Department of the City Hall support this initiative.

In July a group of volunteers went to the IWRC to effect some improvements after the diagnostic: they identified those places, where fire extinguishers are located, with paint according to Brazilian legislation. Also they installed safety signs and all safety equipment was identified for regular control. What was badly needed in the IWRC was a new compactor which could be purchased with the support from the Community Program and was installed by the supplier for free. During an official meeting in August the compactor was handed over and at the same occasion our volunteers explained some safety procedures and trained the workers involved, carrying out a few tests with the new equipment. A first major step was made in a sustainable project that is planned to last for at least two years, providing job opportunities and reducing the burden on the environment. A mutually beneficial situation for AkzoNobel employees and the Itupeva community!