Get Adobe Flash player

Rethinking progress


Humanity’s technological and industrial development has brought an increasing accumulation of waste. Now, companies, governments and citizens look for ways to break that paradigm and reuse those materials, generating wealth from what was once viewed only as garbage.


There are countless factors which humanity can use to measure its own technological and economical development throughout the last centuries. The Industrial Revolution, the evolution in transportation, increased urbanization, the advancement of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, the power-generation plants – all these factors heightened the well-being of population, helping us to have a more pleasant and prolonged life. Since the increasing mechanization of manufacturing activity, which began in the second half of the 18th century (with the introduction of the steam engine and other innovations) to the present day, the production of wealth in the world has multiplied itself more than 10 times, consistently for the first time in the history of humanity.

However, the realization that all this progress implies in an ever growing production and accumulation of waste is as unwanted as it is unavoidable. All industrial processes leave debris and unused remains and contribute, even indirectly, to pollution. And people generate an increasing amount of discarded materials which, if not handled correctly, will turn into trash - and in dirt and waste. But “waste” and “trash” are not necessarily synonymous. Behind the generation of all kinds of unwanted matter, there’s another industry, made up of innovative initiatives, processes and ideas, facing the challenge of dealing with waste as a source of opportunities and generation of wealth. In this context, the so-called “3Rs” – reduce, reuse and recycle, in addition to other forms of reutilization – stand out not only as ways to give new applications to whatever remains, but also to save money and natural resources. “We will continue to see an increasing need to capture sources of waste and reuse them to help meet the global demand for materials, reducing the impact of getting these materials in their raw state,” said Steve Eminton, an English journalist and editor of site, a reference in Europe about studies on waste management and initiatives linked to the 3Rs.

Author of the book Os Bilhões Jogados no Lixo (“The billions thrown in the trash”), the Brazilian economist Sabetai Calderoni debates the growing output of waste by society in Brazil and around the world (and the wasted wealth in incorrect disposal of these remains). “What society sees as ‘trash’ is actually the product of a mistaken approach to the materials” (read the interview). As a result, in addition to preventing waste generation, it is necessary for companies, governments and citizens to rethink the way they view these materials and the treatment given to them, seeking to preserve the environment and also getting the most out of these important resources.


The Korean company LG created the program ecoMobilization, to promote the collection of used electronics (of any brand). This avoids the increased accumulation of so-called e-waste, that contains toxic materials and heavy metals, besides reusing old appliances – recycling plastic and using metals such as gold and cobalt for other purposes.




Water: reuse’s prime target

There’s practically no industrial activities that can dispense water – and its importance for sustaining life on Earth needs no comments. Disposing of wastewater (industrial term for all water whose natural characteristics are changed after domestic or industrial consumption) in nature is not only an environmental hazard, but also represents the loss of a key raw material. Smart solutions to minimize water usage and make its treatment (and its subsequent reuse) more efficient are worldwide priorities. An example of high technology applied to water reuse is the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) developed by the public authorities at Orange County, California (USA). A three-step process – microfiltration, reverse osmosis and application of ultraviolet radiation and hydrogen peroxide – purifies wastewater that would be discharged into the Pacific Ocean. The result is a water whose quality and purity even surpass the standards required by federal and state laws for drinking water. The system can meet the needs of about 600,000 people – the world’s largest water purification system for potable use.

Rational use of water and the saving of this valuable resource is a priority for Petrobras. The Hydric Resources and Effluents Coordination at the company’s Safety, Environment, Energy Efficiency and Health (SMES) area is responsible for providing guidelines and tools that contribute to the rational use of water in all operations. Some of the company’s initiatives for the efficient management of the resource include projects such as the Guide for Assessment of Water Availability (that gives directions to operational units in the evaluation of water availability for its activities in the hydric basins where they are located); the Inventory of Water and Effluents (consolidating data about the volume and quality of collected water and the wastewater discarded by the installations); and the development at the Petrobras Research Center (Cenpes) of advanced technologies for treatment and reuse of water. “By 2015 we will double the volume of water reused by the company, which in 2010 was 17 billion liters. Besides reducing the demand for fresh water for its operations, the savings from rationalization and reuse activities ensure a safe source of water supply for Petrobras”, says Carlos Gonzalez, Petrobras’ coordinator of Hydrous Resources. Among the units that have reuse projects in course, Gonzales highlights the experiences at Cenpes and at the Vale do Paraíba Refinery (Revap, in the state of São Paulo); those initiatives will allow the reuse of hundreds of millions of liters of water per year.


Comperj: one of the biggest water reuse projects in the world

The Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (Comperj) is one of the major ventures in Petrobras’ history. It is scheduled to be fully operational by 2014 and will have the biggest project for water reuse in Brazil (and one of the biggest in the whole world): all the water used in its industrial processes will be supplied through reuse. Wastewater collected and treated at Rio de Janeiro will be transported to a storage station at the city of São Gonçalo through 17 km of submarine pipelines. From there, the water will be pumped to the Complex through more 32 km. At Comperj, the water will pass through new treatments and, after that, will be used in industrial processes. Next, most of the used water will receive another treatment to be reused again. The remainder will be treated and discarded according to environmental standards. The flow rate predicted for the project can reach 1,500 liters per second, the equivalent to the consumption of a city with 750,000 inhabitants.



After the recent extension of its facilities, Cenpes revised the projections about its water consumption, now reaching 800 million liters per year. To meet this demand, a station specialized in wastewater treatment and water reuse was built there. It should be fully operational in the second half of 2012, allowing for  the reuse of approximately 600 million liters of water every year. This volume is enough to supply a town with 15,000 inhabitants for one year. Thus, about 75% of the volume of water required to the unit´s activities will come from captured rainwater and reused water.


Revap received in 2011 a new station for the treatment on industrial waste, with a capacity to treat up to 300,000 liters of effluents per hour. The project pioneered the use of membrane bioreactor technology (MBR) for biological treatment of oily effluents from refineries and included the modernization and extension of the refinery´s wastewater treatment station. It will allow the reuse of water for industrial purposes, saving up to 2.6 billion of liters every year.


latinhasFrom aluminum to gravel

“Recycling” is a watchword when it comes to sustainable economy. It is now a global industry that joins individual initiatives, government programs and private companies investments. Reusing discarded materials and products in order to transform them into new products is a business strategy that generates economy, protects nature, saves natural resources, diminishes energy expense and reduces the accumulation of waste. “The production, processing and disposal of materials in our modern economy of disposal not only wastes resources, but also energy”, argues Lester Brown, founder of Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.

Aluminum cans, an universal symbol of recycling potential, are a fundamental part of Coca-Cola’s business. Not coincidentally, the beverage market giant is at the forefront of reutilization of materials in industrial processes. The British subsidiary of the company is a world example in waste management and recycling. In 2001, Coca-Cola has committed to reduce the amount of waste in its factories in the UK. By investing in recycling equipment and the sorting and separation of waste, besides keeping a continuous monitoring of its performance, the company managed to recycle 99.5% of its materials in 2010. Four of its plants (out of six) have already reduced to zero the sending of waste to landfills.

“Investing in the preservation of nature also saves money,” confirms Lucia Toledo Camara Neder, an Environment consultant at Petrobras’ Exploration and Production (E&P) area. Among the company’s efforts regarding the control and disposal of waste is the careful separation of all materials to be discarded by the production units. The offshore platforms, for example, generate scrap metal, old paint, chemicals, oily sludge (resulting from the separation process of oil) and plastic containers, among other types of waste. E&P’s Solid Waste Management Plan monitors and counts the amount of waste generated in each platform, and also determines the final destination of those residues.The sludge produced in the Campos Basin platforms, for example, goes to treatment units for waste oil and is used on cement furnaces. The scrap is auctioned and reused by the steel industry. “We are always investing in research on recycling alternatives for other types of waste. Currently we invest in research to reuse gravel, a waste generated at the drilling of wells, in order for it to be used in the ceramic industry (on porcelain-like floor tiles), and we are also researching the use of oily sludge as an asphalt component. And almost 100% of the residues of used lubricating oil can be used again, after being re-refined”, says Lucia.

Petrobras’ Waste and Impacted Areas Coordination, under the SMES area, was established in 2001 and sets the guidelines for improving waste management, as well as encouraging the use of new and cleaner treatment technologies. It also brings together the efforts of monitoring and reuse of materials that are discarded by the company as a whole. The Waste Minimization Project, initiated in 2009, identifies the potential for reduction at the generation sources, evaluates actions regarding energy and environmental efficiency and tests new technologies for recovery and reuse. The methodology focuses primarily on identifying measures to prevent the generation of waste and, only after that, acting to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. “We view minimization as an end in itself, looking at the generation of waste, analyzing its potential and evaluating what types of residues are best suited to be used as raw materials,” explains Claudio Henrique Guimarães Dias, Petrobras’ coordinator of Waste and Impacted Areas. “Additionally, we take care of the materials generated from the company’s products, as well as observing our partners and suppliers’ waste management practices.”


Reinjecting CO 2

The search for ways to manage and reuse the waste is not restricted to solids and liquids. Petrobras commited not to release to the atmosphere any of the carbon dioxide produced in the operation of the pre-salt reserves. To do that, the company created a program to develop and implement technologies to enable the capture, transport, storage and use of CO 2. One solution still under development is the reinjection of CO 2 back in the oil wells. In the pre-salt, the testing began in 2011 on a pilot well at the area of Lula, in the Santos Basin. Besides ensuring that the produced CO2 will not be vented to the atmosphere, the alternate injection of gas and water may increase the pressure inside the well, enhancing the oil’s fluidity and therefore its recovery potential (by increasing the amount of oil that can be extracted from the well).


Sustainable Carpet

Interface - one of the largest carpet manufacturers in the world - sets a good example for the recycling segment in the U.S.. The company collects used carpets from their customers and turns them into raw material for new ones. Since 1994, this has prevented the disposal of more than 70,000 tons of carpet. 


Plastic wood

Using plastic waste, Brazilian company wisewood Brazilian makes benches, poles, railroad ties, boards and planks out of "wood" plastic. Besides avoiding deforestation, the products can be recycled again at the end of its lifecycle (an average of 50 years).



desafioglobal_lataslixaoDisposable stuff becomes energy

All over the world, transforming waste into sources of energy is an integral part of the 3Rs policy. A survey of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), the agency that monitors the use and disposal of residues and wastes in the whole planet, points out that, in Europe alone, about 70 million tons of garbage are used each year for energy production, generating electricity and heating for 25 million people. “It is a procedure that prevents the production of greenhouse effect gases such as givemethane, emiting less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels”, explains Greek analyst Efstratios Kalogirou, researcher and member of ISWA. “Along with recycling, the transformation of waste into energy is the most efficient and integrated way to solve the problem of garbage accumulation in the big cities”, he maintains.

Petrobras develops various activities for conversion of waste into new sources of energy. The so-called residual oils and fats – especially used cooking oil that would have been discarded – are already successfully transformed on a raw material for the biodiesel produced at the company’s biofuel plants, an ongoing project in Bahia and Ceará. About 600 collectors, affiliated to cooperatives or associations at these regions, collect the oil (that is donated by the population in cities around the biofuel plants) and sell it to Petrobras, an activity that also generates income and new jobs. Another way to extract energy from waste is to use the shells of the castor oil plant seeds (one of the oil seeds used for the production of biodiesel) as a fuel. “The companies contracted to peel the castor oil plant seeds use their shells to supply the boilers of the peeling machines. It’s a virtuous cycle, in which something that would be a residue becomes an energy source”, explains Ricardo Prado Millen, coordinator of Agricultural Development at Petrobras Biofuel, one of Petrobras’ subsidiaries.

This symbiosis between agribusiness and energy production, through the reuse of waste, reaches a culmination at the German city of Könnern, where is located the second largest biomethane plant in the world. From the remains (skins, straw and other debris)of the corn crop collected on 30 farms in the vicinity of the plant, eight giant tanks produce, by fermentation, 30 million cubic meters of biogas, which yields 15 million cubic meters of biomethane. The gas is injected directly into the domestic supply network in Northern Germany. In addition to generating energy, this form of waste reuse produces fertilizers as a byproduct, just like in the biodiesel case. When the plant opened in 2009, a representative of the German Biogas Association, Andrea Horbelt, said that by 2020 one fifth of the German natural gas demand can be met by biogas produced from agricultural waste.


Energetic ice cream

Unilever, the world’s largest ice cream manufacturer, announced the construction of a biodigester that can transform waste into energy. The apparatus will generate biogas from waste milk, cream, proteins, syrups and fruit pieces, supplying 40% of the energy demand at the factory where it will be installed, in the U.S.


desafioglobal_tuboCities, people, governments

However, companies’ commitment to the reduction of the accumulation of waste and to give new uses for discarded materials is only part of the effort. Public authorities at national and city levels, along with society, need also to organize themselves and find ways to put into practice the ideals of the 3Rs. “There is no more time for us to wait for some big project that revolutionize São Paulo or any other major city. Local, informal initiatives need to be reinforced, in order to become models that can be replicated in various places. This is one possible way to solve the complex problems of urban centers”, said Natalia Garcia, creator of the project Cidades Para Pessoas (Cities for People), which researches urban planning ideas that can inspire Brazilian cities.

Some “pilot cities” are ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to integrating reduction, recycling and reuse to their urban design projects. They are urban centers that were planned with an infrastructure that minimizes energy consumption and interference with the environment in which they are inserted. One of the most interesting cases is the International Business District (IBD) of Songdo, South Korea, which will be complete in 2015. Songdo will have charging stations for electric cars, buildings that employ a large percentage of recycled building material and the use of desalinated sea water for irrigation. Also in the East and looking toward the future of urbanism is the Tianjin Eco-City, a collaborative project between China and Singapore that will create a city that, in the mid-2020s, will house 350,000 people. The Eco-Town should obtain a minimum of 50% of drinking water through reuse. A waste management system will maximize the potential for recycling; in addition, 90% of traffic in urban areas should be “green” (public transport, cycling, walking), reducing pollution and fuel consumption.

Other cities, already inhabited, overcome the everyday challenges related to waste. Calgary (Canada) was considered in 2010 the “greenest” city in the world by a global survey conducted by Mercer, an English research institute – especially for its waste removal services and its wastewater treatment. Arcosanti, an experimental city in the United States, presents the idea of “arcology” – a blend of architecture and ecology. The buildings are made from minerals found in the region, in integration with the geological panorama. The buildings are made to make the most of the sun as a light source; greenhouses in which plants are raised may also be used to retain warmth for heating during the winter. All of this guarantees a minimum level of interference in the natural landscape.

In Brazil, among the examples of sustainable cities stand out Curitiba, at the state of Paraná (the city was awarded in 2010 by Globe Sustainable City Award for its concern with environmental education) and Porto Alegre, at state of Rio Grande do Sul (which shows a high efficiency in waste collection and recycling and at the water treatment). However, there is still a lot to be done. Each year, the country produces 61 million tons of garbage, and, according to a recent research by Brazilian Association of Public Cleansing, only 1.4% of that total is recycled. This situation should change with the recent establishment of the National Solid Waste Policy, regulated by the law number 12,305 in 2010. The law stipulates that the federal government must develop a National Plan for Solid Waste and requires the extinction, by 2014, of all of the garbage dumps (to be replaced by controlled landfills) and the obligatory separation of organic waste (sent for composting) and recyclable material. It also defines the responsibility for the lifecycle of products – from production at the factory until the disposal by the final consumer – shall be shared amongst manufacturers, importers, traders, consumers and public services in urban sanitation. “The Plan will establish the concept of reverse logistics, requiring that manufacturers create a system to recycle the packaging of their products”, explains sociologist Elisabeth Greenberg, executive coordinator of the Polis Institute, who participated in the hearings that resulted in the document’s final draft.

To give new destinations to what is discarded, viewing opportunities to extract value from these materials: that is the challenge. The collaboration between companies, governments and citizens and the increasing awareness about the need for efficient management of waste is creating a scenario in which progress is not necessarily synonymous with more trash – but of a virtuous cycle of raw materials reuse and generation of wealth.



With the program "Clean Running", BS Colway, a company in the state of Paraná, collects used tires and turns them into raw material for road pavimentation, fuel in power plants or simply base materials for new tires. A tire discarded in nature can take up to 600 years to decmopose.


desafioglobal_subtitulosENG3R in the forest

At the Urucu Operations Base, at the Amazon, Petrobras maintains strict control of waste production and disposal. All organic waste (2.5 tons per day) passes through a composting process to be used as a fertilizer for reforestation and gardening. The recyclable materials (plastic, scrap metal, paper) go through screening and separation and are sent to specialized recycling industries. Hazardous waste such as sludge and oil are segregated from other materials, sent to Manaus and used in ovens for the cement industry.


Beyond biodiesel

The glycerin resulting from the production of biodiesel was initially sold to small customers, such as soap and cleaning products factories. Now it is exported mainly to China, where it is used in cosmetics, paints and coatings. The product is also used in an ecological way in the industry as a dust suppressant, and Petrobras is studying its use in oil exploration and production. “Today there is already a big market for glycerin and we are studying ways to reuse it as a fuel and animal feed,” explains Aline Costa de Andrade, coordinator of Product Quality at Petrobras Biofuel. Sludge and fatty acid, products of the biodiesel industry, are also sold to soap factories. And the residues from the processing of castor oil seeds (the so-called “pie”, a grainy paste with a small amount of oil) are used as fertilizers.




By: Marco Antonio Barbosa

Photos: Edu Monteiro / Fotonauta





Log navigation