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Bold Or Insane? Rafael's Quest To Re-Think Recycling

Lisa Jones | May 22, 2013

"Less than 1% of materials are recycled in Brazil--In the next five years, it is my hope that S.O.S. will be responsible for increasing this industry to at least 1%."

The percentages may sound small, but the feat is not--Rafael is determined to double the recycling rate in São Paulo, Brazil--a dense metropolitan area home to nearly 20 million people.

As a Laureate Global Fellow at the 2012 retreat, Rafael confessed to the group "Doing this work, people are either going to call you bold or insane. I think I am a little of both."

Rafael Henrique Siqueira Rodrigues launched Organized Systems for Sustainability to address challenges in the recycling production chain and create jobs with fair incomes for waste workers. An engineer by trade, Rafael sees social impact work a little differently--he does not call his activities "projects." Instead, he identifies each activity he has developed as a "tool" in his "toolbox" of solutions. He considers himself a problem solver, and approaches each challenge with the tool that is right for the job.

As an engineer, complex systems are also important to Rafael's work. Rather than focusing on one stage of the recycling process, he works to re-design recycling in Brazil from the time materials are discarded to the time they are re-purposed and used again.

For example, S.O.S. creates community-friendly recycling receptacles--a large city wall with drop boxes for various materials and beautiful murals illustrating where to drop each material. Next, students volunteer their time to manage the materials on the other side of the wall, and encourage their families to bring their recyclables to school. S.O.S. then organizes waste workers with fair wages to pick up the materials and bring them to the recycling facility. Finally, S.O.S. makes their own products out of some materials, such as paper, notebooks, and other office supplies. Funds from selling the products contribute to S.O.S. operations, and the cycle continues.

See S.O.S. in action in the video below.

Meet two other environmentally-focused fellows or read Rafael's Top 4 Reasons to be a Fellow.