How the City Solutions Platform is helping Rio clean up its waste

By Luan Baptista Ribeiro, Programme Management Office Manager at C40 Cities

For almost two years, the C40 City Solutions Platform (CSP) has been working with the City of Rio de Janeiro to find innovative solutions to manage the city’s organic waste and decarbonize its waste collection vehicle fleet. The City has since secured a one-year grant extension from Brazil’s National Development Bank (BNDES) – a huge feat in view of the current economic crisis in Brazil. The City has also procured the first eight electric waste collection vehicles into its fleet. 

Organic Waste Plant

The treatment and final disposal of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) has been a challenge for most Brazilian municipalities. 41.6% of all MSW generated in Brazil is disposed of improperly, causing serious social and environmental impacts. The CSP support to the City of Rio de Janeiro and its Municipal Waste Management Company (COMLURB) has been focused on implementing innovative financial, social and environmental solutions to the collection, treatment and final disposal of the organic fraction of its waste, which amounts to 50% of urban waste. This challenge is in line with Brazil’s efforts to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions targets, to cut carbon emissions 37% by 2025 from 2005 levels and 43% by 2030.  

The City established a successful 50-ton per day anaerobic digestion testing facility – the first one capable of processing unsegregated waste in Latin America. This pilot project was launched with private partner Methanvm and the Federal University of Minas Gerais, financed through a three-year grant from BNDES, valued at USD 2.8 million. The operation started in October 2017 at a 5-ton per day capacity with the Municipality set to absorb the operational costs in March 2018.

However, an economic crisis in Brazil led the Municipal government to near bankruptcy. The challenge of COMLURB was to avoid the closure of the testing facility by developing a commercially viable plant. The CSP co-creation process focused on the economic feasibility of the technology developed in the pilot project, including estimating labor and equipment costs and revenue potential for a period of two years. In this period, COMBLURB would gather all necessary data for best operation processes and methodologies to design a larger commercially viable plant suitable to the needs of Rio de Janeiro.

As a result of the refined economic feasibility model developed with the CSP, the City secured a one-year grant extension from BNDES. The plant is now operating at up to 35-tons per day, diverging organic waste from landfills, and serving a population of 70,000 inhabitants. As a result, the plant is avoiding the emissions of about 3.150m³ biogas per day, equivalent to 14 MtCO2e per year, increasing the service life of the landfill and reducing the demand for land. COMLURB reported that the CSP support was pivotal in demonstrating the importance of Rio’s anaerobic digestion innovation and increasing the visibility of the project across stakeholders, which in turn generated a critical mass of support that lead to the grant extension from BNDES.

Electric Waste Vehicles

Rio also asked for CSP support on how to introduce electric vehicles (EVs) to its waste collection fleet in order to reduce air and noise pollution and address a historic environmental and social debt of COMLURB to the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro. To run and manage its operations, COMLURB leases close to 200 rear-loader waste collection vehicles, for a 5-year contract. Preliminary data suggested that EVs could be successfully implemented in COMLURB’s operations. However, with a higher upfront cost in comparison to diesel vehicles and a local political environment reluctant to increase expenditure, the challenge was focussed on finding alternative pathways to decarbonise the fleet.

The CSP support was critical for Rio de Janeiro’s success in introducing the first EVs to its waste operation. During the co-creation process, city officials, with the input of solution providers, academia and other stakeholders, developed a high-level tendering model, later refined by COMLURB, that allowed the introduction of the first eight electric collection vehicles in late 2018

The eight collection EVs are now operating in the streets of Rio and data is being collected on their performance. COMLURB intends to use this performance data, including savings in fuel costs, to develop a business case for leasing up to 100 more collection EVs.

The City Solutions Platform facilitates early stage collaboration between the public, private, academic, NGO and civil society sectors, to co-create scalable, replicable and implementable solutions to key climate challenges in C40 cities.