The beaches of Salvador, in the north of Brazil, are one of its most important tourist assets and one of the most democratic public spaces in the city for recreation, entertainment and social interaction. During the past decades, Salvador has witnessed accelerated population growth, which has generated an urban expansion not planned enough, that has contributed to clandestine disposal of domestic and commercial wastewater into the sea and rivers, affecting the quality of the water on the beaches.

There is a lack of environmental awareness in the local stakeholders. Their waste production and management are not being properly addressed, causing the early depletion of the Salvador Sanitary Landfill. Even when Salvador has Voluntary Delivery Points (VDP), they are scattered throughout the city and are not suitable to receive large volumes of materials. In addition, the lack of commitment led to an unsorted waste disposal at VDP’s or illegal waste disposal that ends up in the watersheds. According to the survey of the Institute of Environment and Water Resources (INEMA) in 2014, 81% of the rivers in the municipality of Salvador have a high degree of contamination.

Despite municipal government efforts, a public sanitation policy is only successful if it has the commitment of the local stakeholders. To address this problem, Resilient Cities Network, AVINA and BID-Lab, organized the Resilient Salvador Challenge in 2019 to support innovative startups on circular economy. This initiative aims to strengthen public-private collaboration to strengthen local economy with more sustainable and resilient production and business model.

The Green Blue Cycle (GBcycle) was chosen as one of the four winning initiatives of the Challenge for its contribution to water and sewerage treatment. This startup develops and uses biotechnologies for the treatment of surface waters of urban rivers. GBcycle uses a biorefinery with a microalgae-based process to eliminate and biotransform pollutants into high added value biomass and bioproducts. Their operations are oriented to industries, agribusinesses industry and municipalities that need proper treatment and final destination of their residual waters.

The GBcycle treatment prevents waste from ending in rivers and sea waters by a four stages process. The first one is a pre-treatment through a classification barrier for large solid waste such as bottles, tires and plastics, among others. The smaller elements are filtered such as sand. The water passes to a photobioreactor system, where the microalgae consume all the organic matter. Finally, the resulting organic waste goes through a drying process to be turned into powder, which can be used as fertilizer.

The essential innovative elements of the GBcycle solution for this Impact Challenge are:

  • Cycle closure: Reuse of biomass resulting from the treatment process to obtain bioproducts that go to the agriculture sector
  • Involving the private sector, one of the most pollutant, to drive a sustainable economic activity
  • Reducing contamination of Salvador’s surface water and increasing the attractiveness of the beaches
  • Improving the quality of life and health of the population of Salvador through water sanitation
  • Awareness of the stakeholders and inhabitants of Salvador through workshops
  • Improving the resilience of Salvador and its urban water system

The GBcycle’s business model is a direct contribution to the Resilience Strategy of Salvador for a “sustainable urban transformation” promoting water resilience, innovating to preserve the environmental assets of the city and supporting the transformation towards a sustainable city. Likewise, it contributes a “diversified and inclusive economy” by promoting environmentally responsible business models.

The impacts of GBcycle can be foster by building public-private partnerships medium and large sized companies. By now, GBcycle has only one treatment plant, however, they envisioned to have 12 plants by 2025, with which its impacts will be strongly enhanced.

Wastewater management and water pollution are problems concerning to all the cities. Therefore, this business model provides a scalable solution that contributes to a more sustainable and resilient wastewater management to preserve watersheds, water resources, and water facilities for a resilient urban future.

GBcycle is one of the initiatives supported through the Impact Challenges in cities Latin American cities and is part of the upcoming Community of Practice that will gather inspiring solutions on public-private partnerships for economic growth and sustainable development in the cities. Stay tuned for further information.