The Environmental Engineer, Natália Pietzsch, is one of the owners of Re-ciclo (Re-cycle, in English), an enterprise created to close the cycle of organic waste in the region of Porto Alegre, where she was born, was raised and lives nowadays
I’ve always been curious about the environment theme, so I did environmental engineering. However, I had never had contact with the data about of organic waste in the city – which, today, is the subject that I am dedicated. I just knew about those numbers at the university, and they’re alarming. Porto Alegre generates 1.5 thousand tons of solid waste every day, 50% of which is organic waste. Today, this material is sent to a landfill that is 130 km from the capital, in Minas do Leão. This is not efficient, either from the perspective of public expenditures or environmental impact. In environmental engineering, I saw an opportunity to do good for others, to make the world a little better on this and other fronts. That’s how I knew I could make a difference. Throughout the [environmental engineering] course, I was sensitized to the subject. At first, I did not even separate my waste. Only when I started working on the subject, I saw the situation and was shocked. Then I started doing my part. It was a process. It’s not a beautiful story that started out.
At 29, Natália Pietzsch can be proud of the changes she has made both in her own life and in the city where she was born, raised, and lives: Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul. In 2016, she needed courage to establish Re-ciclo with the partners Filipe Soares and Thiago Rocha. Master in Production Engineering and a PhD applicant candidate in the same field of expertise at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Natália decided to undertake immediately, just by the experience of the internships she had taken in the area and by having worked as an autonomous consultant. “I started undertaking because I came across a very relevant problem for me: the garbage issue within the cities. I did not have an expectation that the city or a private initiative would solve this problem, so along with my partners I started to research alternatives and solutions for organic waste. I did not want to wait. While researching, we saw a business opportunity with social-environmental purpose,” she says.
According to Natália, Re-ciclo fits in what is conventionally called “sector 2.5” because it is not a non-governmental organization (NGO) initiative, nor a company that has the profit as the main purpose. “Our purpose is to generate socio-environmental benefits, but we must make a profit in order to maintain ourselves.” We do not receive donation or sponsorship – the company pays all the bills with the revenue it generates. We are not able to pay compatible salaries to the market, but we are working to better compensate employees, have more impact and reach more people,” she explains.
The objective of the Re-ciclo is to give a sustainable destination to the organic waste that used to go to landfills. The company does this by collecting this waste, by bicycle, at the customers’ home and assigning this material to composting. At the end of the process, the residue is transformed into fertilizer, a nutrient-rich compound suitable for vegetable gardens and plant gardens, which goes back to customers who subscribe for the service (R$ 45 per month for houses and R$ 60 per month for business). Today, Re-ciclo mainly serves individuals and restaurants, but the company also sells ready-made worm farms and gives courses to anyone who wants to learn about the principles of urban agriculture or even learn how to build a compost or make a worm farm.
During the Virada Sustentável Festival in Porto Alegre, Natália’s company promoted a course on the integral use of food by teaching recipes with peels, stems, and seeds that are often discarded. “The important part of the nutrients we need is precisely in what we throw away,” she says. Waste is not only from the food, but also from the efforts of the whole chain that exists to get it into the consumer’s home – from consumer to transport. “Throw away any part of these foods does not make sense. What needs to be discarded should be turned into fertilizer to return to agriculture, nourish the soil and give rise to new food. This should be the cycle, not “purchasing, consuming and disposing” which is the rule in large cities.
Natalia makes a point of remembering that the concept of sustainability is also tied to that of co-responsibility. “The city has its obligations, but whoever generates the waste is us, then the first responsibility must be that of the citizen, who must at least separate the garbage properly and dispose it in the right place. Everyone has to do their part: the city hall, citizens and companies,” she says.
Today, the focus of Re-ciclo is on expanding its operations in Porto Alegre. “We have 190 associates and 20 companies, and great potential to grow. We want to increase and qualify the service. We currently take the waste to a site in Gravataí to compost, but our dream for 2019 is to bring this to Porto Alegre and, thus, eliminate the financial and environmental cost of transportation,” she says. “In the future, it would be wonderful if every neighborhood had a communal garden plot to compost there, in the neighborhood itself, so we would close the cycle within the city itself. When this happens, Re-ciclo would no longer need to exist.”
Content published in April 13, 2018