Volunteers Work to Make Copacabana a Model of Sustainability

Story of service • Brazil • April 2012

The Rio de Janeiro neighborhood, Copacabana, which includes the world famous beach, could cut its amount of trash in half and become an example for the entire city, thanks to help from IBM volunteers and a partnership of not-for-profit organizations.

Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana is one of the most famous beaches in the world, with 2 1/2 miles of white sands along Brazil's coast. But the Copacabana borough of Rio, which includes the beach, is home to more than 160,000 people, making it one of the most population-dense urban areas in the world. Currently, the Copacabana borough generates more than 190 tons of trash every day – 28 tons of that from the beach alone.

Dorival Roman Jr. and a partnership of not-for-profits help Rio de Janeiro reduce, reuse, recycle.

The not-for-profit Instituto Ambiental Conservacionista 5º Elemento, in partnership with Idealizar Comunicacoes and volunteers from IBM, have set their sights on turning the Copacabana neighborhood into an ecologically sustainable role model in social, economic, cultural and institutional aspects – starting with the garbage produced by the borough. In a complex project, 5º Elemento aims to change the mentality of restaurant owners, hotels, area residents, local commerce and tourists about garbage by using the ethic of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

“Copacabana is one of the most famous tourist spots in the world and will give a great visibility to the action,” says IBM people manager and project manager of IGA-GD applications Dorival Roman Jr. “It calls people’s attention to the matter of destination of waste. It will promote a change of attitude on how people take responsibility and effectively engage them in being part of the solution.”

An example of sustainable practices for all communities

At an IBM volunteer event in July 2011, more than 150 volunteers including IBM employees, hotel collaborators, restaurants, shop owners, Copacabana residents and action supporters, participated in a service day to separate garbage, and put on art workshops and theatrical presentations. The day netted 200 kg of garbage, 113 kg of recyclable paper, 9 kg of recyclable cans, 23 kg of recyclable PET items, 11 kg of recyclable plastic, 40 kg of recyclable newspapers, and 4 kg of soft plastic and plastic bags – in total: more than 200 kg of items that had been headed for the landfill. The volunteers also put on a “flash mob”-style presentation intended to educate beachgoers on proper sorting of recyclable items.

An IBM Catalyst Grant helped fund a project to continue 5º Elemento’s goal of changing the thinking of the Copacabana neighborhood’s stakeholders – businesses, residents, and tourists who visit the beach. IBM volunteers worked with 5º Elemento to develop a logistics plan to implement the idea of collecting the garbage previously separated from beach hotels, restaurants, pubs and residences, and making sure recyclable materials do not go to waste. Catalyst Grant funds were used to help design and build trash repository containers, the most visible symbol of the program, as well as to hire artists in different communities to demonstrate the importance of recycling. Future plans include the creation of a film to continue to educate the community about the importance of recycling.

“The messaging was made in such a manner to motivate people to start thinking that failing to treat garbage properly is a big issue, which leads to an extremely complicated situation with terrible consequences in the future,” Dorival says.

The aim of the project is to transform the thinking of the neighborhood, then the city, then the entire state, leading to more sustainable practices for all communities.

“For me, this project promotes the concept of responsibility in each citizen that keeping the beach clean is a sign of respect for others and the conviction that the future is in our own hands,” Dorival says. “When each individual changes their attitude on behalf of the planet, it can ensure a better future for everyone.”

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