Rodrigo Oliveira was working for his family’s consulting company near São Paulo, Brazil, on waste disposal engineering projects like landfills, when he started feeling a creeping sense of discomfort.
The amount of useful materials and recyclable goods being buried in landfills was staggering. And the only recovery happening was by impoverished people combing the dump sites.
“Unfortunately 75% of Brazilians do not even sort recyclables and [most] municipalities don't have recycling collection,” Rodrigo says.
But then he had an idea. While working on a masters’ degree in sustainability, Rodrigo came across the concept of urban mining — the process of locating and reclaiming useful elements from discarded items to be repurposed.
He started thinking about how the concept could be adapted into a cost-effective recovery solution to reduce the amount of recyclable waste that was winding up in Brazilian landfills. Along with Adriano Leite and Leandro Metropolo, Rodrigo developed a construction waste destination tracking software.
Around the same time, multinational beverage company Anheuser-Busch InBev announced its goal of increasing the amount of recycled glass used in the production of its bottles. Then, along with Highline BETA, AB InBev launched 100+ Accelerator — a sustainability accelerator for startups with leading-edge solutions that can help the company achieve its 2025 sustainability goals.
Rodrigo, Adriano, and Leandro zeroed in on the opportunity to adapt their software and launched Green Mining, their integrated post-consumer packaging recovery system, specifically for the accelerator program. It was a perfect fit: one of AB InBev’s six vertical glass plants around the world is located in Brazil.
Green Mining brings “post-consumer packaging back to the supply chain,” Rodrigo explains. The idea is to divert packaging from landfills to be returned to the manufacturer for reuse or recycling.
The startup’s waste finder software uses sales data to identify hot spots, where a large amount of post-consumer waste — such as beer bottles — is being generated. These are typically areas with a high density of bars and restaurants. Green Mining then installs a collection hub nearby. Collectors pick up the waste and bring it back to the hub, where it’s sorted.
“As the system tracks every movement from the bar to the recycling plant, we are able to [certify] this reverse logistic supported by blockchain technology and with an end-to end compliance,” Rodrigo explains.
For AB InBev, Green Mining’s idea provides a way to achieve circular packaging. For Green Mining, the experience of piloting with AB InBev through the accelerator allowed the trio’s idea to “be taken [off] of the paper and become real.”
The pilot, which included a plan for the installation of 200 Green Mining collection hubs in Brazil, has already been recognized with a congratulatory honour from the city council of São Paulo and a public recognition from a federal congressman. In one 90-day period of collection, 45,000 kilograms of glass waste was diverted from landfill.
“AB InBev opened a window of opportunity for us to prove and execute our statement, our faith, our purpose,” Rodrigo says. “When people wear ‘sustainability glasses,’ it’s possible to see many, many new opportunities of synergies and cost reduction that were [in the shadows] before.
We’ve been able to show that it was possible to introduce sustainable operations in the core business, be affordable, and reduce production costs.”