Are you applying to the No Waste Challenge in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro?

In this brief summary, we dive deeper into local perspectives around waste, and highlight the specific challenges and opportunities facing this region.

Keep reading to learn more about submitting a project to the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro city track.












Brazil is blessed with natural resources and cultural diversity. And perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Only 500km away from each other, two of the largest cities in the world occupy a magnificent region nestled between the Atlantic Forest and the Atlantic Ocean. But with a combined population of around 35 million people, the environmental impact of this massive urban occupation is extremely troubling.


Mounting waste is just one part of a long chain of problems. Throughout the country, the extraction of natural resources happens almost without barriers. Environmental awareness is relatively low, and exaggerated consumerism is also well-accepted behaviour. After all, Brazilians usually associate abundance with love, happiness and success.

There is a feeling that the issues that Brazil faces are too enormous to solve. The complexity is such that it is difficult to know what to do and how to make things better. But despite all of this, there are a few important things that Brazil has in spades: like the wisdom of its indigenous population or the creativity of its local communities.


Challenges in SÃO Paulo and Rio de Janeiro




Brazil is also a country of large contrasts, with disparaging inequalities in income distribution and overall quality of life. Social inequality in the country directly impacts how people take, make, and waste. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the richest cities in the country and are also home to some of the most populous slums in Brazil. This creates great paradoxes such as the immense daily waste of food in the cities while other parts of the population go hungry. And the disregard for the climate and biodiversity has its greatest implications for those least fortunate. 


This means that climate solutions and social inequality should be addressed as interrelated concerns. By improving our relationship with the environment we will improve conditions of life in our cities, and vice-versa.


Did you know that Brazil is the 4th largest producer of plastic pollution in the world? The country also has low recycling rates. In other words, most of the plastic waste is accumulated in landfills, dumps or thrown out into the environment.


At least 70% of the waste found on Brazilian beaches is plastic, mainly from packaging. As plastic continues to flood our oceans, the list of marine species affected by plastic debris grows. In Brazil, more than 3,700 animals that have been necropsied were found to have ingested plastic waste. There are also negative impacts on fishing and tourism, on the quality of the landscape and on the high costs of waste removal and disposal.


Guanabara Bay is considered by many marine scientists as one of the most polluted bays in the world. 70% of the sewage from 9 million inhabitants of the State of Rio de Janeiro now flows into the bay untreated. This is equal to 18,000 liters of sewage per second.


The health of Guanabara Bay, at the heart of Rio de Janeiro, has a direct impact on the lives of the surrounding population – approximately 9 million residents in 16 cities and along more than one hundred rivers, streams and canals. Ultimately, a healthier bay depends on a population with a better quality of life, and vice-versa.

insights on waste in São Paulo & Rio




To keep plastic out of nature, we need to reduce the amount of unnecessary and problematic plastic that is produced at the source. Companies need to assume their role in this vital cycle and reduce the amount of disposable plastics, by offering consumers alternative options. What is exciting is that well-known raw materials such as paper, aluminium and certified wood are gaining momentum as substitutes to plastic. Unusual and innovative materials also stand out, such as cups made from cassava pulp, seaweed and sugarcane-based packaging.



Brazil is known as the country where everything that is seeded, flourishes. The country also has abundant mineral and oil reserves. São Paulo is the city with the largest ethnic groups of Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Lebanese origins outside their respective countries. Abundance and diversity are terms that should always be in mind when thinking about Brazil and cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It defines local potential and opportunities. It also defines behaviours, problems, and provides an extra layer of complexity to a continent-sized country with more than 211 million inhabitants, of which 35 million live in the greater São Paulo and Rio areas.




Waste management and access to basic sanitation varies in different areas of São Paulo as well as in Rio de Janeiro. There are places where there is no garbage collection at all. The silver lining is that in these peripheries and underprivileged communities, there are exceptional initiatives taking root, such as community gardens, campaigns for the integral use of food, and actions focusing on the repair and reuse of household objects.



Since the first colonizer stepped foot in Brazil, the wisdom of those who lived on this land for thousands of years has been by turns ignored, neglected, and destroyed. However, there is now a greater awareness of our need to learn from those who have lived symbiotically with nature. 

Indigenous technologies work with nature instead of trying to conquer it. Once developed and scaled, these indigenous technologies could offer a new path to shrink the ecological footprint of humankind.


So where can designers make a difference? With the help of our partners, we’ve highlighted some key opportunities and case studies relevant for São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but there are plenty more! Refer to the global briefs for further inspiration.


This design brief asks: how can we use fewer natural resources and consume more mindfully? Take São Paulo’s and Rio de Janeiro’s needs into account by considering the following opportunities.

  • In Brazilian culture, consumption is often viewed as something aspirational. Can we encourage other forms of status tied to the social good instead?
  • We must learn to protect and regenerate our forests, oceans, and urban ecosystems. How can we be inspired by Brazil’s indigenous people, to design solutions that work in synergy with the environment?
  • Brazil is known as the country where everything that is seeded, flourishes. How can we respect this abundance and diversity, by designing products that have a net zero (or nearly zero) negative impact on our environment? 



The Caravel is a sculptural urban intervention that aims to raise awareness about water pollution while treating it on a microscopic level. Developed by Infinito Mare in a partnership with Furf Design, the project is based on a highly sustainable biomimetic design approach. Each Caravel is an optimized innovation that allows algae to grow using water pollution as a food source. The goal is to use urban recycled plastic to create more Caravels.


The Caravel Project contributes to 12 out of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.



This design brief asks: how can we make products and materials that are kept in use or regenerate natural systems? Take São Paulo’s and and Rio de Janeiro’s needs into account by considering the following opportunities.

  • Gambiarra is the Brazilian way of solving problems with low costs, little materials and lots of improvisation. How can we encourage sustainable ways of making that capitalize on what Brazil has in abundance: workforce and creativity?
  • Think about slim and smart packaging.  How can we create products that do not have waste as an unintended byproduct?
  • Good design can make reusing things more appealing, even to consumers who are accustomed to single-use products. How can we encourage the reuse of products, while avoiding materials that take decades to biodegrade?



This Brazilian brand aims to contribute to a shift in consumption habits and to boost awareness about the environmental impact of a fair economy. They do that by offering sustainable products and services to people, events and businesses. By giving individuals sustainable options, Beegreen believes that the users of their products have contributed to divert tons of items from landfills and other disposal areas. They offer, among others, personalized iron straws, eco-bags, cups and packages. 



This design brief asks: How can we use waste as a resource or dispose of goods more responsibly? Take São Paulo’s and and Rio de Janeiro’s needs into account by considering the following opportunities.

  • Let no waste go to waste. How can we design products that use waste as source material for a new cycle of production?
  • São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are enormous cities, with complex ecosystems. How can we streamline delivery systems of goods and materials in order to minimize waste?
  • Brazil is a land of plenty. There should be little need to import things from far and wide. How can we encourage production and consumption to take place locally, requiring less travel and waste?



Pimp My Carroça is a movement that began in 2012 to lift waste pickers out of their invisibility – and to increase their income – through art, awareness, technology and collective participation. Its mission is to develop creative and collaborative actions that positively impact the recognition and fair remuneration of waste pickers and collectors of recyclable materials in Brazil by civil society, and public and private powers.


To learn more, here are the main sources used for creating this briefing