In Brazil, 85% of all waste vegetable oil (WVO) produced is dumped down drains or tossed into lakes and streams. Dumping WVO into waterways poses serious environmental issues for the city of São Paulo. Currently, 5,700,000 residents in the city dispose of WVO by throwing it directly into rivers. Waste vegetable oil pollution can kill fish and plant life as well as harm birds, and it sparked the creation of regulations in 2009 to control the discard of WVO into waterways, leading to larger supplies of WVO for potential collection by waste pickers.
Catadores (waste pickers) are among the poorest and most marginalized people in Brazil. This population is highly vulnerable and composed mostly of women, children, recent migrants, unemployed, disabled and the elderly. In Brazil, it is a way of life for an estimated 500,000 people.
The Brazilian federal government has recently recognized scavenging as a professional activity, and the national union of waste pickers has become a legitimate stakeholder in government decisions on waste management and recycling. Catadores are organized into local city unions under the larger national umbrella of the Movimento Nacional dos Catadores de Materiais Recicláveis (MNCR). In São Paulo, Rede CataSampa, the local chapter, supports fifteen neighborhood cooperatives.
Currently, the reselling of WVO, as well as other recyclable trash, is accomplished by working through middlemen who take most of the profits, resulting in extremely low revenue for the cooperatives, as noted by the catadores’ average daily income of less than US$7 (less than half of the 2010 Brazilian minimum wage of R$510 per month).
To support WVO collection in Sao Paulo, the Green Grease Project designed a low-cost waste vegetable oil filtration system in partnership with the local union of wastepickers, Rede CataSampa. The system was piloted at one Rede CataSampa recycling cooperative in 2011, and after only two months, they were able to double their earnings from sales of WVO.
In partnership with Rede CataSampa, the Green Grease Project is now working to launch a centralized business comprised of a network of ten cooperatives that filter waste vegetable oil, consolidating their oil sources and allowing them to negotiate for higher prices.
The Green Grease Project currently consists of two phases: