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Cambio Verde: Exchanging Recyclables for Food

Focus Area: Energy & Climate Change
Commitment By: Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez and Mitchell Harrison
University Name/Major: Cornell University, MPA in Environmental Policy and City and Regional Planning
Partners: Curitiba Environmental Department, local government
Geographic Scope: Morelia, Mexico

Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez and Mitchell Harrison of Cornell University are launching an innovative waste management program in Morelia, Mexico, which will allow residents to trade recyclable materials for fresh, locally grown produce. Inspired by a program pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil, called Cambio Verde — or Green Exchange — Ochoa Gonzalez and Harrison plan to distribute 180 tons of locally produced foodstuffs to more than 6,000 active participants, who will have recycled 720 tons of glass and metal. If they achieve their goal, at least 5 percent of the town’s residents will have been affected by their positive efforts.

Ochoa Gonzalez and Harrison will receive $10,000 in funding from the 2009 CGI U Outstanding Commitment Awards sponsored by the Wal-Mart and Tillman Foundations. With these funds, they will be able to purchase and distribute the locally produced food required to jump-start this initiative. In addition, Ochoa Gonzalez and Harrison are working with the local government of Morelia in an effort to scale up their model so that similar initiatives can be incorporated into the environmental policies of the surrounding region. Their efforts aim to demonstrate that the Cambio Verde model can be successfully replicated throughout other developing nations.

CGI U recently had the opportunity to talk to Ochoa Gonzalez and Harrison about their CGI U commitment.

Q. What is the mission of your commitment?

Our commitment works to exchange food for collected recyclables to address poverty alleviation and environmental cleanup. Cambio Verde will be a multi-faceted program where one kilogram of locally cultivated seasonal produce is traded for every 4 kilograms of recyclable materials collected from the city streets.

Q. How have you developed the model for your commitment?

We began working on our commitment by gaining the interest of stakeholders through sharing information about the Cambio Verde program that has already been successful in Curitiba, Brazil. We are also gathering relevant information from Morelia’s landfill manager, public works department program officer, the staff of the rural farmers development branch at the state agricultural department, and the city council principal. We have developed a logic model and business plan outlining the potential impact of the program in Morelia during the first year. The mayor and the city council will receive this business plan as well as a copy of Daniela’s thesis, translated into Spanish, during an informative session that will serve as a kick off meeting for the project in August 2009.

Q. What inspired you to engage in this commitment, and to choose Morelia as your focus?

Daniela grew up in Morelia, and I have visited there many times since high school. We both have a wide network of contacts and friends that would make it easier to strengthen support and recruit sponsors than in other cities elsewhere in Mexico. Cambio Verde was first conceived in Curitiba, Brazil, in the late 1980s. While doing an internship in Curitiba’s environmental department, Daniela investigated how Cambio Verde’s solid waste management strategies could be replicated in Morelia. We found that the Cambio Verde program is the most feasible as a first step in exploring our goals of starting a toxic waste treatment facility, determining procedures for clinical waste disposal, and achieving the ability to separate and recycle household waste. Cambio Verde’s model is cheaper than other similar programs and it is able to capture the most attention for promoting awareness.

Q. What challenges or difficulties have you encountered in the implementation of this exchange? How have you addressed them?

The biggest challenge we could face is the potential resistance of the informal garbage and recycling collectors in the community to a formal waste management program. To address the resistance we have designed contingency plans that rely on the strength and support of our board of directors and our regional networks. The city council representative Daniela de los Santos and the landfill director Juan Pablo Guerrero suggest soliciting the involvement of local and regional private sector organizations. Informal collectors depend directly on their good standing with society and strong dependence on local industries, and it is proven that they do not undermine projects that are sponsored by big private sector firms. By co-branding ourselves with the organizations supporting the program, we may be able to gain support of the community.

Q. How Cambio Verde will work with the private sector and local government in order for your commitment to be successful?

Because Cambio Verde was initiated by the local government in Curitiba, Brazil, it is crucial to involve the local government of Morelia from the beginning. Even if in Morelia’s case the idea comes from us, it should be a multi-party commitment where the government is aware that the private investment. We have already heard from the Morelia city council representative Daniela de los Santos that there is a possibility to include Cambio Verde input and investment within the annual local budget once the program is launched. This is the way our commitment is meant to work. Actually, Morelia receives federal money specifically assigned for food allocation among the less favored quintile of the population, this mechanism would help Morelia to better allocate these resources and to legitimize distribution while promoting recycling and reducing its operational cost.

A major aspect of our program is securing food for the exchange. It is essential that the department of agriculture have a presence on our board of directors to negotiate with farmers and to help plan for contingencies for poor crops or weather problems that interfere with food distribution.

We also face the challenge of the lack of a fully installed market and industries to absorb the recyclables collected. Cambio Verde can help the government allocate the recyclables to the industries located within a 300 kilometers of the program. Our board of advisors can help us identify and negotiate with potential buyers of this recyclables. In the future the Board can also take part in promoting the creation of recycling factories within the State.

Finally, the contingency plan to tackle the change in administration also involves our board of advisors. As the board includes representatives from the different public dependencies related with the program, the ability to create strong and stable relations with this representatives and the amount of enrollment and commitment they take on it, will help the program take priority among their agenda of initiatives to be maintain and preserve through the next administration. Whatever the tendency or the party inclination of the new administration, the presence of the private sector in the board of advisors, provide them with an opportunity to remain in good standing and strength their own connection to them. For this reason even if after the third year the private sponsors provide a minimal part of the program budget, it is crucial to count with their name and relevance for the program to assure stability and continuity.

Q. Are you currently seeking other resources or partnership opportunities to expand this initiative in Morelia or in the surrounding area?

Yes, some of this potential sponsors detected in the region are Lumen, Consortium Tres Marias, Cinepolis, Juaninos, Cinepolis, Juanito’s, Sistos y Ruiz Hardware Stores and more. Once the main project document is completely translated (thesis + business plan) we will presented to each of the potential sponsors that compile with our interest and standard of being directly related to the local community and who want to contribute to society through our project this coming August. Later on, a second and, we hope final, round of sponsors will join in the month of November where a stand with an exchange truck of recyclables for food will be presented in the main industrial fair in the Region: Expovall. This fair will give the program exposure to most of the investors of Michoacán (Morelia state) and surrounding states. The stand will actually exchange recyclables for local harvested produce and we expect to complete our budget at this point.

In addition we are putting together other grants applications for the Spanish government foundation to take advantage that they are investing heavily in Michoacán state.

The United Nations Association of the Dominican Republic made a commitment to cultivate partnerships between Dominican, Haitian, and international students to further action on some of Haiti’s most pressing economic and social issues.

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