Municipal Solid Waste Management: Public Consortia as an Alternative Scale-Efficient? Lessons from the Brazilian Experience


One of the biggest challenges facing modern society is solving excessive generation and the environmentally safe disposal of solid waste. In this context, effective management of municipal waste is required, but local authorities in many countries are constrained by limited finances and inadequate services. The decisions in the area of municipal solid waste management are not only capital intensive, but also tough from the environmental and social points of view. There is a need to develop and implement a simple, but reliable tool that will help mayors in this process. In this paper, we analyze Public Consortia of Municipalities, a basic instrument of the National Policy for Solid Waste of Brazil, a country with more than 5000 municipalities. Public Consortia is expected to reduce costs due to economies of scale and smaller demand for land. This study identifies the characteristics of Public Consortia, its advantages and disadvantages for urban solid waste management based upon the analysis of 29 Public Consortia in the Northeast, Southeast and South regions of Brazil. Through gathering of information and empirical data our analysis reveals challenges that are not being addressed and that impact in both, the formation of Public Consortia, as well as the urban solid waste management alternatives.

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de Matos Firmino Silva, W. , Imbrosi, D. and Nogueira, J. (2017) Municipal Solid Waste Management: Public Consortia as an Alternative Scale-Efficient? Lessons from the Brazilian Experience. Current Urban Studies, 5, 185-201. doi: 10.4236/cus.2017.52011.

1. Introduction

Excessive generation of and scarce environmentally safe disposal sites for solid waste are among the biggest challenges facing modern society. The international concern in relation to solid wastes, household solid wastes, has increased due to increase in production and to inadequate management and disposal areas. Since the Rio Conference 92, there has been the incorporation of new priorities for sustainable solid waste management, which has directed the action of Governments, industry and society.

These priorities include the reduction of waste generation, reducing final disposal on the ground, maximizing reuse, the selective collection and recycling, composting and energy recovery. In particular, one of the biggest problems in densely urbanized areas, especially in metropolitan areas, is the lack of appropriate places to have the waste properly disposed. Furthermore, in most landfills, there is no proper treatment for the slurry (toxic liquid generated by organic garbage decomposition). This condition results that toxic waste can contaminate the soil and underground water sources, while the gases produced in the decomposition process are released (Jacobi & Besen, 2011) .

In most countries, local authorities are charged with the responsibility of collecting and disposing of solid and liquid municipal wastes within their areas of jurisdiction (municipalities or counties). According to estimates from the World Resources Institute and USAID, mentioned by Henry, Zhao, & Dong (2006) , many local authorities in developing countries spend over 30% of their budgets on refuse collection and disposal but can only collect at most 50% - 70% of municipal solid waste (MSW). Most do not meet environmentally safe MSW disposal levels because of a lack of sanitary landfills.

This reality of municipal solid waste management (MSWM) is also present in a large and economic diversified country like Brazil, where municipalities are responsible, by law, for the provision for public service of urban cleaning and solid waste management. There are 5570 municipalities in the country; approximately 90% of them have population lower to 50,000 inhabitants (IBGE, 2014a) . The National Survey of Basic Sanitation 2008 (IBGE, 2014a) shows that just over 30% of these municipalities have an adequate destination for the collected waste.

In recent years, several norms and the National Policy on Solid Waste1-PNRS (on its Portuguese acronym) have provided a legal framework for the solid waste management sector.

The PNRS imposes deadlines for the closure of dumpsites and the implementation of proper waste disposal, providing treatment, recycling, composting, gas recovery from landfills, planning and cost recovery initiatives, putting pressure on governments at all levels, especially the municipal, to comply with the new law. However, municipalities, the smaller ones, face difficulties for SWM: 1) inadequate service coverage and operational inefficiencies of services, 2) limited utilization of recycling activities, 3) inadequate landfill disposal, 4) inadequate management of hazardous and healthcare waste, and 5) lack of resources, planning and technical expertise for the municipal solid waste management.

In this context, one of the instruments encouraged by the PNRS2 is the regionalized delivery of MSWM services through formation of Public Consortia,

which is justified in the norm for scale gains, which would, in theory, to the efficiency of the provision of services for urban solid waste (USW). The Consortia aims at trying to reduce the private costs of MSWM distributing costs over more than one municipality to improve services, dispose correctly the USW, improve service delivery, reduce investment costs, increase technical cooperation, include the collectors of recyclable materials in the selective collection process and mitigate environmental damage (Nascimento Neto & Moreira, 2012; IPEA, 2012) .

The first question that drove this study was to establish whether the prioritization and the incentive to the access to government resources provided by the PNRS to municipalities, for formation of Public Consortia for regionalized management of USW services, led to an efficient MSWM. Other supplementary questions also arose in relation to economic, social and territorial factors that influence the efficiency of a shared management of solid waste and that would be decisive in encouraging and prioritizing access to resources by Law. To understand a policy instrument is necessary to understand their characteristics and what it entails in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and equity. However, when the research started, it was found that there was no information available on the main characteristics and problems faced by Public Consortia for MSWM in the country.

The informational gap identified led us to expand the purpose of the work, corroborating the vision of Ethridge (1995) to expose that the data and the data collection process can affect how one perceives the problem and how one takes conscience of it. It was carried out then a data survey on the sources of funding for MSWM, since the lack of municipal resources is the first justification for encouraging Consortia. We sought to identify the Public Consortia for existing MSWM in Brazil and conduct a case study with 29 Public Consortia, rising, through the answers obtained, the main characteristics and the problems faced by this instrument of the PNRS.

With the gathering of information and the collection of empirical data, it was possible to reveal problems that would otherwise go unnoticed, as the identification of primary issues in the management of solid waste that interfere in encouraging consortiums solutions. Instead of pointing out which factors most influence the efficiency of Consortia, the paper exposes which of them are considered on its formation and the consequences for their efficiency. In addition, it shows the relevance of the evaluation and makes a proposal on how and what to evaluate in USW management through Public Consortia from the obtained results.

2. The Public Consortia Alternative

The weak regulation of legislation in SWM is a barrier to be faced in the early stages of planning public policies for the MSWM, especially in developing countries (Ezeah & Roberts, 2012) . In places without waste management policy, the first step is the implementation of a direct regulation. Thus, despite some limitations, the approval of PNRS in 2010 marked a new stage in public policy of SWM in Brazil because it standardizes the processes and duties to be fulfilled by individuals, companies and governments nationwide.

The Law of PNRS, in general terms, brings the concepts of shared responsibility, inclusion of waste pickers and hierarchy-not generation, reduction, reuse, recycling, solid waste treatment and environmentally adequate disposal of waste. It also presents some requirements, such as closing landfills, creating plans, implementation of proper disposal of waste (treatment, recycling, composting, gas recovery from landfills, planning and cost recovery initiatives). The Integrated Solid Waste Management Plans3 is a key issue of the law, and should include diagnostic studies on solid waste generation, identify favorable areas for disposal, regional solutions and opportunities for consortia solutions, operating rules, technical training activities, actions with the participation of interest groups, the costing system, collection forms of service delivery, identifying environmental liabilities and remedial measures, among others (Brazil, 2010a) 4.

Public Consortia is an instrument of the Brazilian PNRS. According to the Law, municipalities that choose consortia solutions for MSWM have priority access to the Government’s resources (Brazil, article 45, 2010a; art. 78 and 79, 2010b) and the preparation of the Plans is conditional for proposals and the receipt of funds (Brazil, art. 16 and 18, 2010a) . However, the PNRS has some limitations, such as the inability of municipalities to apply its requirements because of municipal administrative capacity-lack of financial and technical resources, infrastructure or the complexity of the Law. Details of Public Consortia are summarized in Table 1.

3. Public Consortia for MSWM in Brazil: An Evaluation

For this research, it was sought to identify, at first, the prevailing cases of Public Consortia for MSWM in Brazil. Since there is no Federal Agency that centralizes this information, we conducted a survey in all 26 Brazilian states and the Federal District. The focus of the survey was to seek the Public Consortia that had the sole purpose of SWM or at least with one of its components being SWM. The survey of existing Public Consortia for SWM was conducted from January to May 2014 based upon responses received by email, phone contacts, internet searches, review of academic papers on specific Consortia, municipal laws, reports and State Integrated Plans.

Through these procedures we identified 77 Consortia: 38 in the Northeast, 25 in the Southeast, 11 in the South, 2 in the Center-West and only one in the North region of the country. Given the nonexistence of data on characteristics,

Table 1. Public Consortia-Brazil’s framework.

Source: Elaborated by the authors based upon: Amaral, 2014; Brazil, 2007a; Carneiro, 2014; Nascimento Neto & Moreira, 2012; Ribeiro, 2007; Schneider et al., 2013.

purposes and specificities of Public Consortia for SWM in the country, we developed a second stage in for data gathering. Therefore, a questionnaire was elaborated with questions about characteristics, purposes and specificities of those 77 identified Consortia in the first survey. The questionnaire was made available on a website for 30 days from May to June 2014. We got reply with completed questionnaire from 29 Consortia (8 from the Northeast, 14 from the Southeast, and 7 from the South).

3.1. Analysis of Results

The total number of municipalities’ members of the 29 Consortia is 285 (100 in Northeast, 137 in Southeast and 48 in South). The data from Chart 1 demonstrates that, for the 29 Consortia, the formation of Public Consortia tends to focus in municipalities with up to 50,000 inhabitants6, being the majority concentrated in the ranges between 10,001 to 50,000 inhabitants. Noticing that from the 5570 municipalities in the country, approximately 90% have population lower to 50,000 inhabitants (IBGE, 2014a) . This means that the study sample tends to represent the dominant characteristics of Brazilian municipalities. In addition, it focuses in small municipalities, which present greater difficulties in the provision of MSWM services-lack of resources, infrastructure and technical capacity. In this context, these municipalities through regional shared initiatives have sought solutions to meet the requirements of the PNRS, reducing costs and providing shared public services.

Why municipalities and states create Consortia for a shared SWM? This is a relevant question from a public policy making point of view. Chart 2 shows that in the three regions, of Brazil the main objectives are: 86% total relating to final

Chart 1. Size class of municipalities per Brazilian region from the 29 Consortia. Source: Elaborated by authors, based upon data from IBGE, 2010 Census and research results.

Chart 2. Objectives of the 29 Public Consortia. Source: Elaborated by authors based upon data from this research.

disposal units and 69% to eradicate dumpsites and recovering degraded areas.

There is some evidence that Brazilian municipalities prioritize expenditure on collection and transport due to public health issues. Data from ABRELPE (2012) indicates an index of 90.2% of USW collection in Brazil versus 39.8% of municipalities that properly send USW collected to landfills. The other 60.2% goes to controlled landfills and dumpsites. When analyzing the incentives for creating the Consortia, it was evident that the need to obey the PNRS, the lack of municipal financial resources and the presence of dumpsites are connected to the key Consortia’s objective of having an adequate disposal of solid waste.

We initially hypothesized that the main motivation for municipalities to participate in Public Consortia was to gain priority access to Federal Government’s resources or incentives established by the PNRS. However, only eight Consortia out of the 29 signaled the priority of access to resources as an incentive for the formation of Consortia. Most them are in the Northeast region, the poorest in

Brazil. From these eight consortia, six were created after PNRS7 and only two were created before 2010, the year of PNRS creation. One of these two, established in 2004, informed changes in the Consortia’s contract to have access to federal funds.

Financial, economic and technical issues are the main reasons for municipalities to seek a joint solution for their SWM. The lack of municipal financial resources was identified as an incentive for the creation of the Consortia for more than 80% of responses. On the other hand, half of the 29 Consortia manifested the need for tax collection as a challenge to cover expenditure on maintaining services. The lack of municipal technical capacity was evident throughout the research, confirmed by the answers of the Consortia. This undoubted represents an additional cost for the Consortia in training municipalities’ managers.

In addition, the absence of Integrated Plans (municipal or inter-municipal) requires more efforts and resources towards the formation of a Consortia. Many Brazilian municipalities, approximately 65% (IBGE, 2014a) , do not yet have their Integrated Plan required by the PNRS. This was confirmed by the responses of the 29 Consortia analyzed. Twelve of them reported not having any plan; only seven have a Municipal Integrated Plan and four the Inter-municipal. Six of them did not answer the question.

As far as the formation of a Consortia is concerned, lack of Integrated Solid Waste Management Plans will require more efforts in training of human resources, since several initial steps that should be part of the creation of Consortia requires, for example, under taking economic and financial feasibility studies,

environmental, social and territorial diagnostics about the waste generation8.

Any policy maker becomes apprehensive in analyzing these results. If one takes into consideration Roura’s (1997) public policies steps, the enactment of the PNRS in Brazil is far from ideal. Roura argues that a first phase of a public policy sets recognition, analysis, design, and consultation steps, as set out in the first column of Table 2. In the second column, we have the “desirable components” and in the third “observed results” of our investigation, related to each one of these steps. Although these steps are essential for the implementation of an instrument such as the Public Consortia, answers obtained in our research suggest that the components of each step of this first phase are very below the level desirable for each step.

There other shortcomings in the Consortia related to Roura’s first phase of public policy life-cycle. Considering that the major goal of the 29 Consortia is the final disposal of solid waste and, consequently, the construction of landfills, it is motive of concern the low proportion of studies on territorial characteristics, land use occupation and distance between the municipalities in the answers of the 29 Consortia. This would not be a problem if the municipalities had already completed an Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan that presumably contains these previous studies. However, considering the low percentage of those who reported having one of the Plans, it is assumed that this is not the case. Data from the IBGE (2014a) confirms that the absence of such analyzes is a dominant reality in Brazilian municipalities, given that only 1742 (31.27%) of the municipalities have specific legislation on zoning or land use occupation. This may make it impossible to plan the construction of regional and shared landfills.

The delay or absence of the completion of the first phase steps can affect the

Table 2. Public Policy steps-first phase-desirable components e observed results on the 29 Consortia.

Source: Elaborated by authors based upon data from ROURA (1997) and results of this research.

time of completion of the second phase steps in the Roura’s analytical framework (see Table 3). Taking as an example from our sample the Consortia that are not yet in operation, and considering by the answers that most began elaborate the Protocol of Intentions between the years 2009 and 2010. If these Consortia come into operation in 2014, they took four to five years from the first phase of discussion and to the second phase of execution. The Consortia indicated some reasons for the non-operation: conclusion phase of Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, statute approval phase or delay in the preparation of executive projects.

3.2. Criteria for Evaluating Public Consortia for MSWM and Research Results

A complementary analysis is to evaluate the Public Consortia as a component of

Table 3. Public policy steps-second phase-desirable application e results observed on the 29 Consortia.

Source: Elaborated by authors based upon data from ROURA (1997) and results of this research.

a public policy for solid waste management. For doing so, we applied traditional evaluation criteria of public policy available in the specialized literature (see Baumol and Oates, 1979 : equity, efficiency, effectiveness, incentive to maximum effort, administrative cost, and permanence. Based upon the results of our sample of 29 Public Consortia in Brazil it is possible to evaluate this instrument, as a PNRS instrument. In Table 4 we summarize a proposal of what should be considered in each criterion for evaluating SWM through Public Consortia based upon the Brazilian experience. We point out its expected results and the main obstacles faced to achieve them. We also suggest how to evaluate whether each criterion was accomplished and, finally, we make a connection with the lessons learned from results analysis for each criterion.

4. Concluding Remark

The Brazilian National Policy on Solid Waste (PNRS) is considered a milestone in the regulation of the solid waste activities in the country. However, Law enforcement without analyzing the municipalities’ capacity to fulfill it, can lead to its ineffectiveness and inefficiency in the use of resources. Our investigation of 29 Public Consortia provides an empirical view of the current scenario of the Public Consortia for MSWM in Brazil.

Our results showed that small municipalities have sought a shared management

Table 4. Criteria for evaluating public policy: results observed on the 29 Consortia.

Source: Elaborated by authors based upon data from: Mendes, 2013; Lipsey, 2007; UNEP, 2009; Pequeno, 2013; IPEA, 2012; Nascimento Neto & Moreira, 2012 ; and research results.

of RSU by forming Public Consortia, having as the main objective the final disposal process through the construction and operation of regional landfills, closing of dumpsites and recovering degraded areas. Depending on common interests and needs of municipalities, Consortia can meet different objectives or sectors in a single contract, which can reduce administrative costs and increase regional cooperation.

The need for compliance with the PNRS and a lack of municipal funds are dominant incentives to the creation of Consortia to SWM. In addition, it was attested that the priority access to the Federal’s resources or incentives instituted by the Federal Government guaranteed by PNRS was an important incentive for Consortia created after PNRS. However, this incentive does not ensure the efficiency of Consortia because other variables are involved and there are new possible restrictions on the access to financial resources.

Nevertheless, the absence of Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan at municipal and inter-municipal level is an example of one of those restrictions and was attested throughout the survey, confirming data from IBGE (2014b) showing that 66.5% of the municipalities do not have a Municipal Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan per the terms of the law. This shows the lack of planning in the creation of Consortia, preventing them from having access to government resources and information of the reality of the sector, its features and the real demand for this type of service. Thus, it is recommended that studies and evaluations are conducted to check if and how these Plans have been drawn up, the qualifications of its developers, the representation of the local reality, and if it could potentially generate effectiveness, efficiency and equity.

Therefore, prioritizing public resources by forming Consortia established in the PNRS is not necessarily associated with effective management; it can potentially induce ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the SWM policy, among other relevant issues. It is identified a policy failure in the case of not considering that if there is a lack of Plans and technical capacity, the objectives of the Law in predicting this priority in access to resources would be not achieved. Another potential policy failure is not to perceive that the issue of SWM is not only present on solid waste and sanitation’s public policy agendas. In this context, transversely policies among ministries and government agencies are essential.

In applying criteria for public policy evaluation upon SWM for Public Consortia in Brazil we had some useful insights into Consortia implementation issues. They pointed out some advantages and disadvantages of municipalities deciding to create Consortia for SWM. The results indicate that the following items must be considered in implementing SWM through Public Consortia: 1) Encouraging transversal sectorial actions for MSWM; 2) Greater federal and/or state involvement in the development of Consortia to SWM; 3) Strengthening technical and institutional capacity in the three spheres of government, especially at municipal level, on USW area, with allocation of resources and programs for this purpose; 4) Implementation of charging instruments for SWM services; 5) Directing resources to the development of Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan; 6) Encouraging the implementation of the first phase stages-diagno- sis; studies of economic and financial viability, environmental, social, territorial factors and distance between the municipalities for the selection of the landfill site; planning; and stakeholder consultations; and 7) Including monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in the whole process.


1Law No. 12,305 of August 2010 and Decree No. 7404 of December 2010.

2The Basic Sanitation Law (LSB) also encourages the formation of Public Consortia (Brazil, 11,445, 2007b) .

3The PNRS established the formulation of Integrated Solid Waste Management Plans on federal, state, municipal and inter-municipal levels.

4However, data from IBGE (2014a) shows that 66.5% of the municipalities do not have an Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan according to the Law.

5It is noteworthy that the LCP does not provide planning stages, such as economic feasibility studies, diagnostic of the sector, consultations with stakeholders and other sectors involved prior to the effective training of Public Consortia. In the case of Public Consortia for MSWM, the Integrated SWM Plans can fulfill part of the planning stages.

6The population data are from the 2010 Census (IBGE, 2014a) .

7The PNRS Law was enacted in August 2010, so the Consortia formed until 2009 were considered before PNRS and Consortia formed from 2010 and after PNRS.

8This short come was also pointed out in the conclusions of the TCU’s Auditing (2011) reporting that financing and agreements needs to be established for the formulation of Integrated Solid Waste Management Plans (state, municipal and inter-municipal levels), as they are a pivotal part of MSWM and will influence the effectiveness and efficiency of applied activities and instruments.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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