Curitiba, Brazil

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Curitiba, Brazil, also known as ‘Pine Nut Land’.

Curitiba is a city of 1.7 million people in the south of Brazil. It is the 8th most populous city in the country and is regarded as the most sustainable, with a large community dedicated to enforcing and protecting the Green mentality. The area was discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1693 and grew consistently over time, though it wasn’t until after WWII that Curitiba really blossomed from an agricultural area to an industrial powerhouse. Between 1940 and 1980, the population exploded, from 150,000 people to over 1 million!
In this article, we will discuss the world renowned recycling scheme that has spread to Europe, the bus system that has revolutionized a city that was growing quicker than it could handle, and the creation of an industrial city on the outskirts of town to expand the workforce.

It is claimed that Curitiba has the highest recycling rate in the world, at 70%.


Since the 1970s, Curitiba has been famous for its role in the development of recycling strategies and social growth issues. The two things go hand in hand. Civil Engineer Nicolau Kluppel, who has been working hard since 1950 to improve Curitiba, and was in charge of parks and recycling in the city for many years, is credited with the design of the Green Exchange, or the Green Swap. Kluppel’s ideas won Curitiba a United Nations award in 1990 for a world idea on trash collection and separation.
Concerned about the sheer amount of waste being sent to landfill, as well as the rising population, Kluppel saw the shanty-towns popping up on the riverbanks as a further threat to the problem. The populous outskirts were turning into favelas, devoid of a recycling scheme and prone to dumping in rivers and natural sites. The city could not afford to keep throwing money at new trucks and routes, so Kluppel came up with the novel idea of the Green Exchange, known natively as the ‘Cambio Verde’. His idea, in principle, was to exchange waste for bus passes. Because the city pays the private bus company on kilometres driven, rather than passengers served, they invested money into making larger buses and improved bus routes, but we’ll discuss that later.
The shanty-town population immediately responded, acknowledging that this was a great idea and would help them massively. This was a huge success for Mayor Jamie Lerner’s Urban Planning Department, and allowed them to continue many successes. The Green Exchange was built after the ‘Trash that is not a trash’ campaign, which tested his trash-for-transport theory on a small scale.
The recycling station not only allows for a trash-for-transport exchange, but also a waste for food service. They offer classes and demonstrations on the recycling scheme, so that local people understand the important role of recycling in developing a sustainable future. The workers at the station are 50% employees and 50% people under care, with the income their activities generate often going to local charities.
Those who have grown excess produce on their own land are also encouraged to bring that with them, and exchange it with others at the recycling centre. The voluntary programme allows for more than two thirds of the city’s waste to be recycled. The exchange rate works out at 4lbs of recyclable trash in exchange for 1lb of food. The traders can also exchange two litres of used oil for one pound of fresh food.
Reducing landfill, as well as improving the infrastructure for recycling plastic, tyres, polystyrene and other harmful items were key motives for Kluppel and Lerner’s urban recycling developments.
Additionally, the social benefits of such schemes has allowed for a huge improvement to the quality of life. Such an impressive scheme the Green Exchange is, some families devote themselves to collecting and exchanging waste as their sole source of income!
The only item that is not collected is food waste, which is quite sensible considering the amount of agricultural land that could utilize it for compost. The city generates income from the recyclables by selling them for reprocessing, to plastic recycling factories or smelters. A large cut of the profit is put into local charities and social infrastructure.

Benefits of The Green Exchange/Swap include:

  • Poorer people save money on food through the exchange
  • Travel tickets allow those outside the city centre access to the city
  • The factory workers in the city’s outskirts can subsidise their travel to work, in turn having more expendable money
  • The whole programme saves landfill costs, makes the area more economically successful and the impact of less rubbish includes things like reduced vermin, disease and litter.
  • Less imported materials and produce, improving local trade and reducing carbon footprint
  • Less factories required to produce virgin materials
  • Less Landfill sites
  • Less trucks driving around, also reducing carbon footprint
  • Less pollution in the city making Curitiba’s residents healthier
  • Recycling centres employ disabled people, recovering drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless people, giving them a chance to lead a normal life.


Since the early seventies, Curitiba has been developing high quality bus lanes to make journeys quicker, safer, more efficient and available to a wider range of people. By the early eighties, the bus network had been developed into a spider web effect and allowed access to most of Curitiba. Buses are colour coded to notify people of their different route. Passengers buy tickets before they get on the bus, allowing the bus to move around quicker. The impressive bus service has reduced congestion by over 30% and the number of cars per person has dropped.
75% of commuters use the bus on a daily basis, a staggering figure, and because of the high number of bus users, it’s unsurprising to know that Curitiba has 25% less congestion than the average Brazilian city, and uses 30% less fuel. The Bi-articulate buses in Curitiba are very similar to airport shuttle buses and involve three carriages, holding a total of 270 people.
The Green Exchange, as mentioned earlier, allows poorer people to exchange waste for bus tickets. Bus tickets are single priced, keeping them affordable to all and they are quite similar to what we know in the UK as a ‘day rider’; a single ticket for the whole day’s use.


All waste from the CIC is recycled to help the city save money
In the seventies Curitiba built an industrial city 10km from the original city. That site is now home to over 6,000 businesses, and the road between serves as the main artery for Curitiba’s work force. The site was deliberately chosen so that it didn’t produce added noise or pollution for the city’s people, this is what we like to consider ‘sustainable development’.
Cars built at the businesses in CIC are often bought and driven by those from Curitiba, reducing the need to import cars from Europe or Asia. 20,000 homes have been built closer to the city, improving the level of accommodation for the 200,000 CIC workers. Water sources are protected and cared for, and the city was positioned so that winds wouldn’t blow fumes towards Curitiba.
There are five main arteries heading out of the city, with the most popular heading to the CIC. Other arteries are filled with public resources like educational centres, libraries and security ‘lighthouses’. These pedestrianized streets have been so successful that in some areas they run for 24 hours with the shops never closing.recycling The increase in public transport use allows the local government to reinvest into the community, improving the quality of life and the appeal for new business. The average income in Curitiba is now 66% above the national average, and 99% of the population are happy living in Curitiba.
The two parts of the city working together in unison for the same sustainable future has created around 2,000 jobs directly in the waste sector. The workers are known as ‘Garis’, with around 600 working as street sweepers and 550 as trash collectors. Many others operate the landfill, which receives only a portion of the 1,460 tonnes of rubbish per collection. There are 17 facilities that process the recycled trash, which can be dropped off at any of the 23 collection sites.

Considering all of these facts, it’s more than understandable as to why we rate Curitiba as one of the world’s most sustainable cities. Their models for a sustainable future are being replicated all over the world.

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