Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Curitiba launches 'Green Exchange' and the Open University of the Environment

This year, the city of Curitiba (Brazil) initiated two related projects of environmental education: the recycling campaign called “Green Exchange” and the citizenship education courses offered by the Open University of the Environment. Since then, Curitiba has earned a reputation as the ecological capital of Brazil. Indeed, the city is recognized internationally for its sustainable urban planning, its social and environmental programs, and its efforts to promote citizen participation in environmental initiatives.

Throughout the last decade of the 20th century, successive local governments have involved Curitiba residents in several noteworthy educational experiences such as the water quality monitoring program and the planting flowers and vegetables initiative.

Recycling Program: Environmental Education for Social Change

By the late 1980s, the population of Curitiba was growing at a significant pace, receiving newcomers from rural areas that settled in the outskirts of the city, in places usually lacking appropriate infrastructures and basic services. In many of these neighbourhoods, the inadequate disposition of garbage in the slums of the city due to the lack of a collecting garbage service was generating serious environmental and health problems among the population. Garbage trucks had no access to these areas because the streets were narrow and unpaved.

In order to tackle this problem, the city initiated in 1989 two programs: “Garbage that is not Garbage” and “Purchase of Garbage”. As part of these initiatives, the local government signed an agreement with the communities, in which citizens formed associations and cooperatives and sold their separated waste to the city.

By 1991, the city expanded these small initiatives and launched an ambitious program called “Cambio Verde” (Green Exchange). This program consisted in establishing community centers located in the poorest areas, where the garbage trucks picked up recycled materials. In these community centers, the citizens could exchange recyclable trash for sacks of food, toys, transportation tickets, and educational material. Seeking to support the local economy as well, the city bought from farmers of the region the food needed to exchange for the recyclable materials. These materials were then transported to plants operated by members of the community with fewer job opportunities, including people with disabilities and homeless.

The organizers of the Green Exchange program designed several educational strategies with the objective to raise awareness about the importance of recycling. Prominent among them was the implementation of media campaigns that included advertising in television and newspapers, and educational programs in schools. The city also created the “family leaf”, a theatrical group that conducted presentations in parks and community neighbourhoods stressing the importance of recycling.

Key to the success of all this programs was the conviction of successive municipal government that without the participation of citizens the program would not succeed. In the words of three times re-elected Mayor Jaime Lerner, “local-level action can protect the environment and can also be directed towards other key issues such as education, whose main priority is to alleviate the impact of poverty” (Lerner, 1996, 1).

The success of these programs is measured today by the fact that Curitiba today separates 13 % of its garbage. The city is ranked first among the 4 Brazilian cities that separate recyclable biodegradable waste (cans, glass, metal, plastic, paper), followed by Porto Alegre (5 %), Florianópolis (4 %) and São Paulo, the largest Brazilian city which only separates 1% of what it collects ( To put these figures in international perspective, in Curitiba, about 70% of the population recycle while in New Your city it is estimated that only 10 to 15% of households do it (McCullough; 1994; 226).

The farmers, citizens and workers learned about environmental sustainability practices and received support to alleviate their socio-economic conditions. Indeed, besides raising awareness about the contribution of recycling in the prevention of environmental degradation, the recycling program of Curitiba also sought to help the poorest populations of the city to improve their quality of life. The success of the program is not only an example of social and environmental sustainability, but also a lesson in solidarity to citizens and environmental adult educators from countries around the world.

Open University of the Environment

Also in 1991, the city of Curitiba perceived the need to educate and involve adults on environmental issues and decided to establish the Universidade Livre do Meio Ambiente (UNILIVRE), giving birth to an innovative program of free environmental education. This university “was born out of the belief that the quality of life in the 21st century will be directly proportional to people’s understanding of their relationship to the environment” (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 2002:19).

Today, some of the courses offered in UNILIVRE are available at no cost for all the citizens interested in learning more about the city’s evolution and its urban processes. As an example, the University offers a course entitled “Environment and City”, with the objective that participants learn more about the environmental programs implemented in Curitiba during the last 20 years. This course also seeks that participants develop a sense of belonging and identity with their city.

According to Cleon Santos, the University’s principal, UINILIVRE tailors the citizenship courses to the needs of participants. For example, when the participants are teachers, the course would focus on historical aspects of the city, fundamentals of ecology and teaching. When there is a group of taxi drivers, educators focus on issues such as the reasons for implementing the public transportation in Curitiba. “They are upset by the good buses because they lose customers, so we have a section about the historical sites where they could take tourists” (McKibben, 1995: 97).

According to data provided by architect Clovis Ultramari, project coordinator of UINILIVRE, in its first decade of existence approximately 80,000 citizens have participated in different activities organized by the University.

In order to have a first hand experience of the lessons learned by the citizens of Curitiba, I conducted several interviews with people who live or who had lived in that city. Fabiano Gondim, a former resident of Curitiba living now in Toronto addressed the recycling program in the following way:

Curitiba faced several problems fifteen years ago. There was environmental degradation and widespread poverty. The solution adopted by Curitiba was to involve citizens in a recycling program, which generated job opportunities, diminished the production of garbage, and provided food for the poorest sectors of the population. Therefore, a problem can become an opportunity to improve. Governments and citizens can work together in solving problems using very creative and relatively inexpensive approaches, and that is what made the difference for Curitiba.


Lerner, Jaime (1996). Change comes from the Cities, Our Planet Magazine 8.1,

Kroll, Lucien Creative (1999). Curitiba 205 (227), 92(4).

McCullough, David (1994). One Man, One City, Problems and Solutions: Jaime Lerner and The Curitiba Program for the Environment (pp 214-231). In Corporate Author, Environmental Issues in Brazilian Society. Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program. June 26-July 31, 1994, Brazil Available at ERIC.

De Almeida Santos Antonio Cesar (1997). “Memorias E Cidade Depoimentos e Transformacao Urbana de Curitiba” (1930- 1990), Published by Quatro Ventos, Curitiba, Brazil.

McKibben, Bill (199. Hope Human and Wild. Minnesota: Little, Brown and Company.

Taniguchi, Cassio (1995). Creating and Environmentally Sustainable City: The Curitiba Initiative, Vol 16 No.1, Spring.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (2001). Showing the Way: Curitiba: Citizen City, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Wellington,  Available at ERIC.

Prefeitura da Cidade (2002). The Curitiba Declaration. prepared for The Latin American and Caribbean Regional Forum on Sustainable Urbanization in Preparation for the World Summit for Sustainable Development.


Karla Barboza, Citizen of Curitiba

Fabiano Gondim, Former Citizen of Curitiba

Fernanda Allegretti, Citizen of Curitiba

Clovis Ultramari, Project Coordinator in UNILIVRE, Curitiba


Universidade Livre do Meio Ambiente (UNILIVRE)

Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano de Curitiba 

Prefeitura Municipal de Curitiba  

Organization Terra   

Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives   

The Global Ideas Bank   

Sustainable Communities Network 

 Prepared by Martha Barriga (OISE/University of Toronto), 2002

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  (date accessed).

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