Incinerator in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil

How to privatize domestic waste, dispossess urban workers, increase carbon emission and reduce recycling. Learn from an experience in Sao Paulo and from the example of Maria Cantadora, awarded for her hard work for waste pickers


The Municipal Government of the city of São Bernardo do Campo (state of São Paulo) wants to have an incinerator installed to provide heat for a thermoelectric plant which will also be built. The Usina Verde plant, as it is called, will be composed of a Waste Processing and Re-utilization System (Spar) and an Energy Recovery Unit (URE) to generate energy. This project appeared after the Municipality was condemned judicially for having polluted the region of Alvarenga where the city's landfill was located. The pickers opposed to the project for several reasons. They feared that they would lose job opportunities in the region and have spoken to the press about how the Municipality was not including them in initial conversations and hearings about the project. They also denounced that, once the plans for the incinerator came up and they opposed it, the pickers’ cooperative started losing support from the municipal government, which stopped providing trucks for them to collect waste around the city. In 2011, two women pickers filed an action demanding the suspension of the project. The pickers argued that the incinerator is in opposition to the Solid Waste National Policy, which encourages reuse and recycling. Also, the plant will be built in the Alvarenga region, which the pickers argue, became a preservation area for the recovery of water springs polluted by the landfill. This conflict is one of the long-lasting cases against incinerators in Brazil, in which waste pickers have been playing a crucial role. One of the first oppositions happened in 1995 in the neighborhood of São Matheus, city of São Paulo, very close to São Bernardo. From then on, the waste pickers in Brazil have been positioning themselves against incinerators and in 2009 the National Movement of the Pickers of Recyclable Material (MNCR), made a public statement in this sense. A “No Incineration” campaign/website was also launched, with material about incinerators. In August 2010 the Solid Waste National Policy was enacted under many criticism from the Movement because the National Policy considered incinerators as an environmentally adequate solution to waste. In June, a meeting was held in São Paulo, where the Anti-incineration Coalition was formed. With over 30 representatives from 15 social organizations and MNCR, GAIA attended this significant meeting and has since given its support to the Coalition. The Coalition is made up of a wide scope of people and organizations: the MNCR, which itself represents 23 states; Polis Institute and Projecto Colecta Selectiva Brasil-Canada (both of them GAIA members, as is MNCR); and many other organizations, networks and individuals interested in waste issues. In an unprecedented move, two state coordinators of the National Waste Picker Movement (MNCR) in Diadema and San Bernardo filed a public lawsuit against Cetesb (São Paulo State Environment Company). The lawsuit, signed by Maria Mônica da Silva and Francisca Maria Lima, requests the annulment of the project to build an incinerator in the Alvarenga neighborhood, on the boundary of the two municipalities. The announcement of the filing of the lawsuit was made during a demonstration held in São Bernardo in July, which brought together approximately 200 waste workers from the area. In April 2013 a public debate took place in São Bernardo with specialists and the Secretary of Urban Services of the city about incineration and 150 pickers that went to the debate had to wait outside because there was no space for them in the room. The 30 pickers that were able to get in wore masks to call attention to the pollution produced by incinerators. In November 2014 there was another demonstration conducted by the Women Pickers of the MNCR in the streets of São Bernardo do Campo.  As of Sept 2016, the plant is under construction. The Municipality was able to find an old law to support its intention to build the plant close to a water reservoir  and in an area of underground water recovery. 

Basic Data
NameIncinerator in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil
ProvinceSão Paulo
SiteSão Bernardo do Campo
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific CommoditiesDomestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn 2009, São Bernardo was sending aprox. 240,000 tons of waste to a landfill in the neighboring city of Mauá.

In 2010, the city of São Bernardo do Campo produced approx. 750 tons of waste per day.

The incinerator will be operated by a Private-Public Partnership for 30 years.

It is expected that the power plant will be able to produce 30 megawatts/hour of electricity

The Municipal Government is investing R$ 600 million (aprox USD 200 million) and the total cost of the project is of R$ 4 billion (aprox USD 1,3 billion)

The project will occupy an area of 30,000 squared meters.

The pickers' cooperative employed 85 people in São Bernardo do Campo.
Level of Investment (in USD)1,300,000,000.00
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected PopulationWaste pickers, urban population
Start Date2010
Relevant government actorsCetesb (São Paulo State Environment Company)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersNational Waste Picker Movement (MNCR)

GAIA International
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Social movements
Wastepickers, recyclers
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Global warming, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (failure for environmental justice)
Development of AlternativesStrengthen recycling measures in the city and protect source of livelihood of waste pickers
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The plant is under construction. The pickers still fear that they will lose their jobs. They have been negotiating with the Municipality the conditions in which they will work separating materials in the plant.

The Municipality was able to find an old law to support its intention to build the plant close to a water reservoir and in an area of underground water recovery.
Sources and Materials

Law that created the National Policy for Solid Waste
[click to view]

Court procedures regarding the action filed by the pickers
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LEI Nº 13.579, DE 13 DE JULHO DE 2009 (Billings Law)
[click to view]


GAIA's website - an article about the National Campaign against incinerators
[click to view]

Local newspaper talks about the incinerator project
[click to view]

Local newspaper talks about demonstrations in São Bernardo do Campo
[click to view]

More on demonstrations by the MNCR's blog
[click to view]

MNCR's blog on the demonstration of 2014 and negotiations with the mayor
[click to view]

About the Living Legacy prize received by one of the leaders, Maria Monica da Silva
[click to view]

The MNCR's blog on the pickers' demonstrations
[click to view]

"No to incineration" campaign's blog about the hardships the pickers are facing since the plans for the incinerator began
[click to view]

Local newspaper asks specialists' opinions on the incinerator project
[click to view]

[click to view]

Media Links

An engineer from the website Resíduos Sólidos comments on the project
[click to view]

"No to incineration" campaign's website
[click to view]

Other Documents

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Meta Information
ContributorAlice Kasznar
Last update28/09/2016