Niches of grassroots innovation in waste management: the case of sustainable initiatives in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro

Oliveira, José Antônio Puppim de
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This dissertation aims at understanding which factors may stimulate a transition to an integrated management of municipal solid waste at the national level in Brazil and the local level in Rio de Janeiro. At the national level, it explores how the quantity of recyclable materials recovered by municipalities correlates with its formal structure, such as existing municipal policies, institutional arrangements, administrative variables, and geographical factors. In Rio de Janeiro, this research analyzes the management of solid urban waste as a socio-technical system and aims at investigating niches of innovation that may challenge the mainstream management and drive the waste system to sustainability. Both the national statistical analysis and the local qualitative study reveal, on the one hand, the critical role of environmental education, on the other, the limitation of policy instruments and formal institutions. The statistical analysis demonstrates that having by law the main municipal policy instruments does not guarantee that municipalities perform better in recycling. Moreover, the existence of local policies appeared to be less relevant than the location and size of the municipal population. The policy variables statistically more relevant for explaining the recuperation of recyclable materials turned out to be the environmental education initiatives and climate change actions. After mapping the actors playing a role in the waste governance in Rio de Janeiro, the qualitative study focused on grassroots innovations in waste management in favelas. Environmental education is at the heart of these initiatives that sprout in communities often characterized by violence and lack of public policies. By presenting some of these initiatives, their origins, challenges, survival strategies, and the potential benefits of the interaction with the public and private sectors, this investigation sheds light on the potential of these niches to affect the regime of the waste management of the city. Taken all together, the results suggest that cultivating the environmental awareness of the population and getting their collaboration and engagement in enacting sustainable waste management practices could be at least as critical as passing the appropriate piece of legislation.