Brazil's President Signs Decree to Implement Law on Collecting, Recycling of Solid Waste

RIO DE JANEIRO--Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Dec. 23 signed a decree implementing a solid waste management law, the only major piece of environmental legislation passed by Congress and enacted in 2010.

The decree (No. 7,404), which took effect immediately, creates two permanent, inter-ministerial committees, headed by the Environment Ministry, to oversee implementation of the law (No. 12,305). One committee will deal with the collection and recycling of solid waste and the other committee will deal with the law's other provisions.

The law requires producers, importers, and distributors (wholesalers and retailers) of plastic, metal, glass, and other packaging, such as paper and cardboard, to draft sectoral accords for the collection and recycling of the materials. The law puts the same sectoral-agreement requirement on producers/importers/distributors of specific recyclable goods mentioned in the law whose improper disposal could pose risks to human health or the environment (33 INER 799, 8/18/10).

Covered goods include all types of batteries, used tires, used lubricating oils and their packaging, leftover or expired pesticides and their packaging, fluorescent lamps and tubes, sodium vapor and mercury vapor lamps (such as street lamps), and used goods with electronic components.

Selective Separation

The degree requires all sectoral agreements to specify how recyclable solid waste will be collected and recycled. Specifications likely will include how consumers, municipal governments, and recycling collectives will be involved, Sergio Gonçalves, director of the Environment Ministry's Urban Environment Department, told BNA Dec. 27.

“These sectoral agreements will likely propose that consumers selectively separate plastic, glass, metal, and paper/cardboard and propose how such goods will collected because the decree only requires consumers to separate dry [slowly decomposing] and humid [quickly decomposing] solid waste,” Gonçalves told BNA. “The agreements will likely propose that consumers dispose of other types of solid waste, like used tires and goods with electronic components, at collection centers set up by their producers or importers.”

The decree also requires sectoral agreements to propose dates for starting the collection and recycling, as well as intermediate and final targets for the percentage of each type of solid waste to be recycled by specific dates, Gonçalves told BNA. The inter-ministerial committee must evaluate and approve those agreements to make them binding on all parties mentioned in them, the decree states.

Sectors to Set Own Targets

“This decree should please producers, importers, and distributors of solid waste or of goods whose consumption generates it because it allows them to set recycling targets in their sectoral agreements rather than having such targets imposed by the decree or by the inter-ministerial committee,” environmental lawyer Fernando Tabet told BNA Dec. 27. “That committee could, however, require certain sectors to upwardly adjust their recycling targets as a condition for its approving their agreements.”

Resolutions passed by National Environment Commission (CONAMA) already established collecting and recycling requirements and targets for used batteries, used tires, used lubricating oils and their packaging, and leftover or expired pesticides and their packaging.

The inter-ministerial committee for collection/recycling will determine whether to maintain the CONAMA resolutions for these types of solid waste or whether to set up new collecting and recycling requirements, Gonçalves told BNA. The degree also allows the inter-ministerial committee to determine what solid waste need not be recycled, he said.

Specific Requirements

Specifically, the law requires generators and importers of products whose consumption creates solid waste, including hazardous waste, to draft management plans for its collection, storage, treatment, and disposal. Those plans must include the type and amount of solid waste generated or imported, the toxicity of the hazardous waste, and the percentage of the solid waste it recycles.

The law prohibits environmental licensing agencies from granting or renewing operating permits for companies that do not draft solid waste management plans (33 INER 280, 3/17/10).

The law also requires companies that deal with hazardous solid waste to buy insurance to cover risks to human health and the environment and prohibits environmental agencies from issuing licenses to those that do not, Gonçalves told BNA.

The decree requires an already-existing committee of private insurers, headed by the Finance Ministry, to set up the type of insurance policy required for each type of hazardous waste, Gonçalves told BNA.

Governments to Draft Plans

The law requires federal, state, and municipal governments to draft solid waste management plans, which include the type and amount of waste generated and the percentage of it that is recycled. The decree requires the inter-ministerial committee not involved in recycling to analyze and approve federal management plans.

“Municipal and state laws must determine the city and state agencies that must approve municipal and state solid waste management plans,” Gonçcalves told BNA.

Under the decree, federal and state solid waste management plans must be based on a 20-year time frame and updated every four years. Municipal solid waste management plans will need to specify the time frame on which they are based and the frequency with which they will be updated. Municipalities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants can draft simplified management plans, the decree said.

Four-Year Deadline

Under the law, states and municipalities that do not draft management plans will be denied federal funds for solid waste management. The law also gives municipalities four years to eliminate illegal waste dumps and to provide sanitary landfills for solid waste they generate.

“This four-year deadline makes it legally implicit that producers, importers, and distributors of goods whose consumption generates solid waste must also have their collection and recycling systems operational within four years,” Gonçalves told BNA. “Otherwise, how can such municipalities be held totally responsible for eliminating the illegal waste dumps where much of this solid waste goes?”

Some 55 percent of all unrecycled solid waste is dumped in illegal, open-air sites and just 45 percent is disposed of in landfills or incinerated, according to Cempre, a private recycling research group.

Decree's 'Weaknesses' Detailed

Carlos Bocuhy, president of the Brazilian Environmental Protection Institute, an environmental group that focuses on industrial pollution, told BNA Dec. 27 that “one of the decree's weaknesses is that, while producers/importers and distributors are setting up their collection and recycling systems, they can dispose of recyclable waste by having it incinerated to generate energy. And there are lots of cleaner, more sustainable ways of generating energy and disposing of this waste.”

Bocuhy added that “another weakness of the decree is that no representatives from state or city governments, universities, or nongovernmental organizations sit on the two inter-ministerial committees.”

“This puts the approval power of all sectoral recycling agreements in the hands of the federal government, with no input from other institutions,” Bocuhy said.

The decree sets fines of up to $500 Brazilian reais ($296) for consumers who, after being warned, refuse to comply with its requirements or with the sectoral accords, once they are approved by the inter-ministerial committee.

The decree also sets fines of up to R$10 million ($5.91 million) for importers of hazardous solid waste--like used tires for retreading--that pose risks to human health or the environment. A 1998 decree (No. 6,514) set fines of up to R$50 million ($29.6 million) for local producers of hazardous solid waste whose improper disposal poses risks to human health or the environment.

By Michael Kepp  

Full text of Brazil's decree (No. 7,404) implementing the solid waste management law is available, in Portuguese, at,

Full text of Brazil's solid waste management law (No. 12,305) is available, in Portuguese, at