An hour after the Final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ had finished, Germany were still celebrating their fourth world title in the Maracana changing rooms. In the access corridors to the grandstands, and the area outside the stadium, however, a huge collection and separation operation was already underway to deal with the waste left behind by the 74,000 fans who watched the match.

The work was tough but highly organised, and the four containers of material to be taken for recycling showed that everything went according to plan – or even better. The cumulative total of 416 tonnes collected at the 64 World Cup matches was higher than initially estimated, making the Waste Management Programme created by FIFA, Coca-Cola and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) a huge success.

"Our previous experiences have shown that waste management is a key aspect of sustainability at World Cups. The fact that the Brazilian government has recently adopted very clear policies regarding waste made this topic even more important in 2014," said FIFA’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Federico Addiechi. "We’re delighted with what we have achieved, especially as we were able to work side by side with local cooperatives to make the project even more sustainable.”

The operation, which continued until 17 July, was the culmination of nearly two month’s hard work by over 850 waste collectors, who were recruited and trained by Coca-Cola to work in the 12 World Cup stadiums. The project focused on social and environmental issues, and was carried out in conjunction with 19 local cooperatives in the states were World Cup matches took place. The programme followed the Brazilian government’s National Solid Waste Policy to make the best possible use of recyclable material, as well as increasing awareness of the importance of avoiding, reducing and reusing waste.

For those who worked in the collection and separation process, the professional working conditions and the legacy left behind for the cooperatives – such as the machinery and uniforms used, and increased technical knowledge of the recycling process – added to the feeling of accomplishment. "We’re really happy with the programme. It improved our self-esteem a lot," said Claudete da Costa, president of the Recycling to Live cooperative and a Rio de Janeiro waste collector for 23 years.

It was only during the World Cup, however, that she finally earned a guaranteed salary, used personal protective equipment and had the opportunity to closely monitor the transport of waste to the cooperative’s base, where the second stage of waste separation is performed. "We suffer a lot of discrimination, but our working conditions were good here. I’m proud to say that I’m a collector of recyclable material, and that I’m able to support my two children as well. This project is a great opportunity to show that we can do our work with dignity. I'm sure that from now on workers like me will thrive," she added.

Leonardo Abreu, the logistical expert of the Maracana programme, was also pleased with how the work had gone. "Participating in the World Cup was a triumph for the waste collectors. They got organised, were given the support they needed, and worked incredibly hard," he said. "It's something that will continue long after the World Cup, now the foundations are in place,” added Abreu, who had the responsibility of coordinating waste collectors and volunteers and making sure waste was disposed of properly in accordance with the National Solid Waste Policy.

Information and instruction
One reason why the screening of materials for transportation went so smoothly was because many of the fans who attended the 64 World Cup matches played their part earlier in the process, by correctly dividing and disposing of waste in the receptacles provided at the stadiums by Coca-Cola. And to make sure that no PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottle, or plastic, paper or recyclable material cup was thrown in the wrong bin, programme volunteers took part in another sustainability operation by giving tips and encouraging recycling, and not just inside the stadium or on match days.

"Lots of people asked for information. I think, overall, they were very careful to dispose of their waste properly," said Ana Beatriz Viana, an environmental engineering student. "This project was part of the World Cup, but the message will continue afterwards. It’s a message for life. We noticed that things improved a lot between the first and the last game," she added, emphasising the importance of the World Cup mascot in the program. "People loved Fuleco. They wanted to take pictures with him and with us, so it was another way of getting them interested in the idea.”

In a World Cup packed with great games and goals, one area where everybody ended up a winner was the Waste Management Programme. And perhaps the biggest winner of all was the environment.