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Recycling Material and Reshaping Lives

MEANINGFUL LIFE: Iraci Leandro dos Santos finds purpose in the mantra "We recycle and the Earth benefits."
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This article first appeared in the Johnson & Johnson 2010 Annual Report.

The recycling cooperative Futura in São José dos Campos, Brazil, is a strong community of people otherwise invisible to society. Its members proudly do work that provides a service to the larger community and serves a significant purpose. “The work we do here is important because people outside learn about recycling through us,” says Iraci Leandro dos Santos. She proclaims the Futura mantra: “We recycle and the Earth benefits.”

Iraci is a catador, one of many who collect and process waste material for recycling, living and working in cooperatives. The cooperatives create a purpose-filled way of life, providing a level of dignity for its members, who are poor and formally unemployed. In 2009, Project Phoenix was started to help Futura and other cooperatives in Brazil responsibly foster their lifestyle and improve their livelihood. The catadores have operated largely on an unwritten social code of cooperation. Project Phoenix helps cooperatives improve their operational processes, document policies and develop a stronger social infrastructure.

“Social and operational infrastructure will enable the cooperatives to grow responsibly, while documented policies will reduce risks, making the catadores more attractive to businesses,” says Michael Maggio, Vice President, Global Strategic Design Operations, Johnson & Johnson. “That’s important, because they provide valuable recycled content to suppliers and companies, like us, that are increasingly interested in using these materials.”

Project Phoenix is modeled on SA8000, a global social accountability standard for ethical working conditions, developed by Social Accountability International. SA8000 is based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child and various International Labour Organization conventions. It includes nine basic principles, such as documented policies on child labor, discrimination and health and safety.

“We’re seeing great progress, especially from Futura, which has relationships with one of our suppliers, Suzano, which makes packaging for Band-Aid® Brand Adhesive Bandages,” says Maggio. Futura recently received SA8000 certification, but that’s just the beginning.

“We see the pillars of SA8000 certification as the minimum standard for a responsible cooperative,” says Renato Wakimoto, a Regional Packaging Director overseeing Latin America. “There is much more that can be accomplished to further help the members of these cooperatives improve their lives.”

Now that the model has proven successful, robust work has begun with a second cooperative in Brazil, and Renato anticipates the ability to leverage the model in other countries moving forward.

“As a global manufacturer, we need to make sure we are adding value to society,” he says. “Helping to ensure that the community is healthy and productive is the only way for us to have a sustainable future.”

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