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Day 64: São Paulo

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The Tieté and Pinheiros are the two rivers of São Paulo. Flanked by highways and very smelly. A clean-up is under way.
Michael Palin - BrazilWhether this fear of robbery and kidnap is real, or just a spectre kept in existence by all who make money out of the security business, is something we don't get far with as our helicopter swings down onto the roof, bringing with it its own little tempest of sound and fury. The rotors continue to whirr above us as we race out, climb aboard and with almost insolent ease are swung off and away.

As we head due north the monochrome mass of the city gives way to rolling hills of green grass and red earth, the colour palette of the high plateau. Down below are new and seemingly prosperous suburban towns of detached houses with gardens and big swimming pools. Beyond one of these, called Paulínia, we descend towards a great gash across the landscape, festering at the centre, but with extensive cosmetic surgery going on all around it. This is Estre's oldest and biggest landfill site.

Wilson drives us round it with the sort of pride and passion that other men might display in showing off their art collection. We watch the trucks coming in with the raw rubbish which slides down a chute into the maw of a machine that sorts it all into dry or humid waste. The dry waste is suitable for recycling and goes off to make rubber tyres or car bodies or whatever. The rest (and if Wilson had his way there would be no such thing as non-recyclable waste) is taken out to a conventional rubbish tip, complete with bad smells and circling vultures. We park as near to it as we can without asphyxiation. But this, Wilson explains, is no ordinary rubbish tip. Alongside the refuse trucks is another line of vehicles carrying earth to spread over the spoil. And at the same time he draws my attention to a team working to install a network of black pipes which will be threaded through the compacted waste to extract methane from the decomposing waste. Cue for us to drive over to Wilson's pride and joy, a series of stainless steel tanks in which the methane that has been removed is heated to 1,000C, at which point it turns into carbon. The captured carbon can be traded as credit with some big polluting company in Europe.

It's reassuring to know that the garbage of a megalopolis like São Paulo is taken so seriously. And legislation is soon to be introduced which will make Wilson an even happier, and richer, man. At present only about three percent of São Paulo's waste is recycled. By 2014 this will have to rise to between fifteen and twenty percent in line with the rest of the country.

Wilson makes much of the statistic I've heard from others I've spoken to. That in the last twenty years almost forty million people have been taken out of poverty in Brazil.

'This means more consumption and more consumption means more waste and all this, with the change in the law to make twenty percent recyclable, is going to mean a revolution in Brazil.'

His eyes shine.

'It's a huge opportunity. Not just to make money, but to do something good for the society.'
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 64: São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Paulo
  • Book page no: 269

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