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Green Mining - Reverse Logistics that changes the lives of those recycling

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The fact that waste recycling is a complex issue is not news to anyone – both in Brazil and the rest of the world, people have long faced problems managing this essential process. Initiatives looking to minimise this issue are constantly popping up. However, one of these stood out above the rest and recently won the ‘SmartCities’ category of the Latam Edge Award 22, due to their genius in empowering people participating in the entire system, end-to-end, making sure that all those involved are getting something out of playing their part in recycling waste, as well as creating a formula that can be scaled globally. The system was developed with the intent to be transparent and fair for all those involved.

Founded by Rodrigo Oliveira (CEO), Leandro Metropolo (CTO) and Adriano Leite (COO), Green Mining is the result of several concerns that had been permeating the minds of those who had been working in a company focused on monitoring and managing landfills, and had been seeing an enormous amount of waste happening in that line of business.

The three partners, who had their start in the construction industry waste market, developing tracking systems for trucks with shipments of clean soil to landfills, created a system that answered all prerequisites defined by law and was highly efficient for this particular area. In 2018, Ambev proposed a challenge for startups, asking them to bring solutions for the companies’ reverse logistics – and that is where they spotted an opportunity.

“We adjusted our construction industry system into a system that would be able to track packages”. We changed our focus from buildings to bars and restaurants”, says Rodrigo Oliveira.

Utilising a smart algorithm, they were able to calculate what would be the average amount of waste generated based on the average consumption of products purchased by bars and restaurants. They then added to the system a geolocation component, allowing users to connect to waste collectors on the map, and started offering a free collection service to bars and restaurants. The only demand made is that the waste is delivered clean and correctly separated. From that moment onwards, their righteous circle of recycling was created.

“Ambev’s acceleration program was great because we took a step back to analyse the different streams of economic flow present in the recycling chain. The collector – working in dehumanising conditions – takes the collected material to the scrap dealer, who bundles the received items and takes them to the recycling plant so that the company using this recycled material can advertise that they are producing environmentally “correct” packaging. However, the social issues behind this chain are not visible”, Rodrigo explains. “From the start all the way to the final distributor, the value of this material increases five times; meanwhile the workers continue to collect waste in a completely dehumanising situation”, he adds.

Better living conditions for all

The $100,000 award from Ambev’s 100+ Accelerator programme allowed the partners to develop a system with photos, georeferencing and a weighing mechanism, utilising blockchain technology to ensure true trackability of the material.

It works like this: the establishment delivers glass and plastic, divided and clean. The Green Mining collector picks up the material and, on the spot, registers it on the system through their smartphone. Then, they take the waste material to a concentration spot, where weighing is done. As soon as a large skip is filled, the material is weighed once again and forwarded to the Recycling Plant, which also weighs and confirms they have received the waste.

The origin of the materials can be consumption spots, such as bars and restaurants, housing blocks, or voluntary delivery points (currently, in the city of São Paulo, there are 63 Pão de Açúcar Minuto stores, 17 Carrefour Express stores, Casa Santa Luzia supermarket, Quitanda and four brewpubs). The secret is in the quality of the material delivered by the user – so it must be clean and correctly divided.

The power of Urban Mining

Urban mining values waste collectors, both through the money they receive for their work and through more dignified working conditions, since the collection is done easily, with a schedule and with materials they receive already cleaned and ready to be sent off to be recycled.

Green Mining did exactly that: offered transparency, efficiency and dignity to urban mining, appreciating that which is, today, thrown out with no consideration for the value it holds. The platform, app and a whole ecosystem work together in order to intercept the recyclable material in a way that is intelligent and efficient before it ends up in a landfill or a dumpsite.

However, the startup didn’t stop there. They started licensing their technology to those interested in recycling in a more transparent way. Today, there are companies and collectives doing their collection utilising the Green Mining methodology and platform all over Brazil – they are in São Paulo, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Fernando de Noronha, Ilha Bela, Chapada dos Veadeiros and Trancoso, as well as many more.

"While Europeans have already reached recycling rates of 55% to 75%, depending on the country, in Brazil we are still burying 98% of all our waste - 60% in landfills, and 40% in garbage dumps. This is terrible because at least one-third of what is thrown out has the potential to be recovered,” says Rodrigo. “It is no longer possible to sit and watch this process where materials that are taken from nature being processed and put to use by the population, who then throw them out into huge landfills where there are people working in subhuman conditions, without personal protection equipment, without any workers rights, without any form of support.”

Green Tracking

According to Rodrigo, it is very easy to start working with the Green Mining system. If a housing community, for example, wishes to adopt tracked recycling practices provided by the company, they can request it via their website. From then on, the interested party will get a technical visit in order to structure the collection process and begin the operation.

"Usually we start with glass and then move forward to other materials”, says Rodrigo, who tells us that, in São Paulo, around 70% of the glass collected by the municipal government’s waste collection ends up in landfills and is not recycled because there is no glass separation in the mechanized sites receiving most of the waste collection in the city. Only 30%, which are sent to collective initiatives, are recovered and recycled.

Collective initiatives and collector associations are also part of the system. They are hired by Green Mining to do their collection service and are paid for it, as well as receiving all of the income generated by the screened material delivered.

Moving forward a little bit, the partners have developed several trademarks, among them a recyclable garbage bag, which has a QR CODE, allowing, via the App, identification of those separating materials correctly. These people will be rewarded with prizes such as supermarket credits, for example. The mission behind this initiative is to “recognise in order to reward”, Rodrigo explains.

This project is still undergoing its trial phase at Comunidade do Sapé in São Paulo. Established in partnership with Sabesp and Valgroup, Green Mining hired Cooperativa Vira Lata, a collective which collects bags in the community. The biggest surprise was that the materials delivered arrived with 0% contamination. “That was amazing! The material was so clean! We weren’t expecting such perfection – neither was the president of the collective initiative!” Rodrigo tells us.

"Soon, we would like everyone to be able to utilise these trackable bags in order to be rewarded. We are at the stage of approving collection companies and collectives and also searching for sponsors to embark on this revolution. We are replicating the project at a school and another 4 communities, and some municipalities have already sought us out in order to utilise this solution within their waste collection and allow all the population to be recognised for their recyclable separation, decreasing the volume of waste being buried in landfills”, he says, adding that synergy between both ends is fundamental. “We believe in cooperation. Responding to major industries’ demands through waste collection, we generate savings for municipalities and reduce costs. This cooperation is the great driver for the development and evolution of this system.”

Recycling is a great deal

With 98% of what is produced being thrown out, nearly all the GDP generated by those who create consumer goods ends up being thrown out; therefore, the size of the potential market for recycling in Brazil, according to Rodrigo, is as big as the GDP held by these sectors.

Green Mining’s entire income is based on B2B, and they are now moving forward in the development of B2C projects (such as the trash bag with a QR CODE). “It’s at this point that we will be able to make the large shift – we have created the first globally scalable solution, because we have managed to ensure that everyone is part of the process” Rodrigo explains. “The information regarding the places where materials are generated and concentrated will help us to be more efficient when it comes to reverse logistics”, he says. As this is about providing a service, it was possible to receive a quick payback and ensure the financial health of the company. “Our growth comes from the fact we have developed a ‘growth hacking’ culture, since we are constantly looking to evolve our own system, implementing improvements, and, in that way, ensuring that the company can multiply their income in relation to the previous year.”

Get to know the “recycling magnets” created by Green Mining, which are spreading all throughout São Paulo and will soon take over Brazil and the world

The Estação Preço de Fábrica project is comprised of containers with 3 employees, and it functions as a true “waste magnet” for recyclable materials. Launched in Carapicuíba, in partnership with Grupo Boticário, Green Mining wants to spread even more containers throughout cities.

“In this region, waste collectors receive R$0,06 per kilogram of glass when they deliver it to the scrap dealer. At Estação, they receive around R$0,42/kg – the same value paid by recycling plants,” Rodrigo explains. The waste collector arrives at the place, delivers the material, weighs it and receives a receipt as if they had made a bank deposit. As soon as they reach R$10,00, they receive an automatic PIX deposit directly to their bank account every Friday. From Estação Preço de Fábrica, Green Mining takes the material to Massfix, who transform it into raw material that will become new perfume packaging for the O Boticário brand.”

This project has already welcomed over 350 waste collectors and “carroceiros” who previously didn’t even work with glass. “We want those who currently make a living from recycling and earn around 490R$ a month to start receiving around 1.500 to 2.000R$ a month. That way, they can have more resources and new circumstances in order to truly become autonomous professionals”, Rodrigo says. “We are looking for partners to spread the Estações Preço de Fábrica throughout all Brazilian states so that, alongside the traceable trash bags, we can increase the flow of recyclable material and create a righteous system in which all have dignity. After, we can spread this solution worldwide”, he adds.

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