The statistics about global plastic pollution are shocking. An estimated 1 million plastic bottles are bought each minute. As a result, the average person consumes more than 70,000 microplastics, which can leak into food and water, each year. The amount of plastic in the ocean is on pace to triple in the next decade. The list goes on.

Sometimes lost in the deluge of facts about plastic pollution are the human beings affected by it — especially those living in extreme poverty. 

In Brazil, where more than 50 million people still live below the poverty line, the poorest people often bear the brunt of plastic pollution. Plastic pollutes life-sustaining rivers, leads to diseases, and floods poor communities that lack proper waste collection infrastructure, The Guardian reports

But despite ever-rising plastic pollution, villagers in one Brazilian community are showing that there’s hope. With the help of the NGO Tearfund and a local church outreach project called Instituto Solidare, residents of the city of Recife are fighting back against plastic pollution — by turning trash into treasure.  

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In Recife, where poverty and crime are rife, an army of plastic collectors is cleaning up the community of Coqueiral and turning plastic collection into a full-time job, according to The Guardian report. 

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Women sell handbags, jewellery, and toys they fashioned out of plastic waste; schoolchildren collected waste and turned it into a House of Trash; many others collect plastic and sell it to collection companies at a rate of about 50 cents for every 50 plastic bottles. 

“We are putting a lot of work into researching the market and looking at trends and trying to make sure we can make a business out of what we are doing,” one woman, Olga Gomes, said. “For me it is empowering – it has given me work and given me a social life.”

Read More: 9 Brilliant Ways the UK Is Cracking Down on Plastic Pollution

Residents have also organized marches to protect the local river, the Tejipió, from plastic waste, and to lobby for the government to institute waste management policies that protect people living in poverty. 

“The situation here in this community, where life is already incredibly hard, has been getting worse,” Evandro Alves, a community leader, told The Guardian. “We are are seeing more and more plastic being used and thrown away, and it stops here in their community. So we decided to mobilise.”

In Brazil, a rising global economy, the problem goes beyond plastic pollution. According to a 2011 report, Brazil produces nearly 150,000 tons of metric waste each day

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Residents have called on the Brazilian government to implement a solid waste management regulatory policy, which it failed to pass in 2010

Read More: This Refugee Is Building 25 Permanent Homes From Recycled Plastic Bottles

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and sustainable cities and communities is goal number 11. Climate action is goal number 13. You can join us and pledge to become an ocean protector by ditching disposables here

The Guardian reports that the movement to turn plastic into profits has spread to other poor communities around the world — including Nigeria and Mozambique. 

Elsewhere, plastic is being turned into everything from roads, to houses, to art, to shoes. While these communities aren’t literally turning trash into treasure, they’re coming pretty darn close. 


Defend the Planet

This Brazilian City Is Solving Plastic Waste and Poverty at the Same Time

By Phineas Rueckert  and  Erica Sánchez