Circular Economy: Viewpoint of Plastic

Pieces of plastic have been trying to get our attention. The first scientific reports of plastic pollution in oceans were in the early 1970s. This waste plastic soaks up other pollutants at up to a million times the concentration in water, harming and killing sea life worldwide. From the point of view of the plastic, we have convincingly failed with solutions. Over the past 40 years the problem has grown around 100 times, with now over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste added to oceans per year.

plastic-bottle

Everyone is aware about ways for plastic to not become waste. We can set up redesign, sharing, refill, recycling and even composting. When it comes to creating practical possibilities for not making waste, people are super smart. But when it comes to making policy to install this practice throughout the economy, which has been the aim of circular economy for the past four decades, we’re consistently collectively stupid. I call this mob thinking.

We have intelligent activists, business people, experts and officials unintentionally thinking like a mob? always bringing forward the same decades old policy weapons. When these weapons don’t work there is a discussion about strategy but not any actual new strategy, just talk about how forcefully to use the same old policy weapons. This is how it’s been possible for waste management, waste regulation and the unsolved waste problem to all grow in tandem for so long.

plastic-pollution-marine-life

The stomach and intestines of sperm whale was filled with 29 kg of garbage

If the piece of plastic had a voice in the circular economy debate what might it say? It would remind us to beware mob thinking. Today’s problems are solvable only by trying new thinking and new policy weapons. Precycling is an example. The piece of plastic doesn’t mind whether it’s part of a product that’s longlife or refilled or shared or refurbished or recycled or even composted (so long as it’s fully biodegradable). It doesn’t even mind being called ‘waste’ so long as it’s on its way to a new use. Action that ensures any of these is precycling.

Our piece of plastic does mind about ending up as ecosystem waste. It does not wish to join 5 trillion other pieces of plastic abandoned in the world’s oceans. It would be horrified to poison a fish or starve a sea bird. Equally it does not want to be perpetually entombed in a landfill dump or transformed into climate destabilising greenhouse gases by incineration.

plastic-pollution-manila

The two possible outcomes for a piece of plastic, remaining as a resource or being dumped as ecological waste, are the same fates awaiting every product. Our economies and our futures depend on our ambition in arranging the right outcome. The old policy weapons of prescriptive targets and taxes, trying to force more of one waste management outcome or less of another, are largely obsolete.

Circular economy can be fully and quickly implemented by policy to make markets financially responsible for the risk of products becoming ecological waste. Some ever hopeful pieces of plastic would be grateful if we would get on with doing this.

Reference: Governments Going Circular best practice case study of precycling premiums

Hiring a Waste Management Company Can Take the Guesswork out of Recycling

Whether talking about recycling for a home or business, this type of service is extremely important for the environment. Waste has a negative impact on the environment and can cause pollution of many kinds. Most companies that offer both garbage and recycling services are very organized, and consumers are expected to be equally organized in sorting their waste and separating it from recyclable items.

Because the process of figuring out what can be recycled, many individuals and business owners find it is much easier to simply hire a waste management company.

Below are some questions to consider when looking for recycling services and reasons why hiring a waste management company can take the guesswork out of recycling.

What Kind of Recycling Service is Required?

This can mean anything from home to office to hazardous waste to syringe collection services.  Some companies offer all types of recycling and provide the different bins necessary to mitigate these needs. It is important to contact the company and find out as much information that is needed to make an informed decision on how recycling is handled.

However, most companies will only offer a general list of items that can be recycled, including plastics, cardboards, glass, etc. This list will not be exhaustive, leaving many consumers to wonder what to do with items such as plastic bottle caps, milk cartons and the like. A waste management company will know the specific regulations for what can and cannot be recycled, eliminating the hassle for you.

What Can Be Recycled?

Bricks, wood, paper, metals, cardboard, plastics, concrete, and green waste can all be recycled.

  • Bricks – These are broken down and crushed in order to be made into new bricks.
  • Wood – Wood can be used again as a building material or can be processed into pulp or mulch. Recycling wood can limit the number of trees that are being cut down.
  • Paper – The process for this material mixes old paper with chemicals and water to break it down. It is then chopped, heated and broken down further into strands of cellulose.  This substance is then called slurry or pulp and is further recycled into new paper.
  • Metals – Recycling metals will not alter its properties, the most common metals recycled are steel and aluminum.
  • Cardboard – This uses a process that reuses thick sheets of multilayered papers (cardboard) that have been discarded.
  • Plastics – The recycling process for plastics recovers waste or scraps of plastic and reprocesses them into useful products.
  • Concrete – This type of recycling is becoming more common and uses a process of reuse of the rubble for new construction endeavors.
  • Green Waste – This can be anything from leaves to grass trimmings to flower cuttings that can be decomposed and then recycled. This will in turn produce what is called green waste.

There are a number of items that can be recycled, but it is important to note that not all recycling pickup services will be able to process all the items mentioned above. Certain materials, such as concrete or wood, must be disposed of at specific facilities.

plastic-wastes

Recycling has unending benefits

For the average homeowner, this can mean having to locate the specific facility and transport the recyclable materials to them. A waste management company will have the contacts in the industry to know where to take any type of recyclable item and can take care of the transportation for you.

What Recycling Techniques Are Used, and Are They Legal and Ethical?

  • Concretes and Aggregates – This process would involve using a crushing machine and combining the concrete with bricks, asphalt, dirt and rocks. The smaller pieces will be used as gravel, crushed concrete can all be used as dry aggregate, which in turn can be used to make new concrete that will be free of contaminates.
  • Batteries – This type of recycling can be very difficult; all batteries must be sorted into groups of similar kinds and require. Older batteries contain cadmium and mercury, which are very harmful and must be handled very carefully.
  • Biodegradable Waste – This type of waste can be made into reusable material via the process of biological decomposition. The two mechanisms that help this to occur are composting or converting it into soil improver and biogas. The latter uses anaerobic digestion where organic wastes are broken down by microorganisms in a biogas plant.

Again, a waste management company will be able to guarantee that your recycling ends up in the right processing facilities and to ensure that it does get processed according to government regulations and ethical means. When the wrong items end up in recycling, this can lead to an entire batch being thrown out. A waste management company will make sure that the recyclable items are properly sorted, helping to ensure that your efforts to recycle do not go to waste.

What Are the Benefits of Recycling?

There are many benefits to using a recycling service. For instance, recycling conserves energy, reduces greenhouse gases, reduces water and air pollution, and conserves natural resources by reusing recycled materials. Protecting the environment is one of the most important things a home or business can do. When an individual or business chooses to recycle all different kinds of waste, it makes the world a better, less toxic place to live.

Not only does recycling help protect the world, it also reduces the need for extraction such as mining, logging and quarrying. It also reduces the need for processing and refining of raw materials. All these processes can contain harmful, substantial amounts of water and air pollution. Recycling will save this energy while reducing the amount of greenhouse gas, which in turn helps to attack climate change.

Solid Waste Management in India – Role of Policies and Planning

Out of all the measures that are necessary in addressing India’s waste management crisis, the most efficient will be changes at the national policy and planning level. It is well known among the small but growing waste management sector that urban India will hit rock bottom due to improper waste management.

Solid-Wastes-Management-India

Unfortunately, they think such a crisis is required to bring about policy changes, as they generally tend to happen only after the damage has been done. This attitude is unfortunate because it indicates a lack of or failed effort from the sector to change policy, and also the level of India’s planning and preparedness.

Important Statistics

An average of 32,000 people will be added to urban India every day, continuously, until 2021. This number is a warning, considering how India’s waste management infrastructure went berserk trying to deal with just 25,000 new urban Indians during the last decade. The scale of urbanization in India and around the world is unprecedented with planetary consequences to Earth’s limited material and energy resources, and its natural balance.

Rate of increase in access to sanitation infrastructure generally lags behind the rate of urbanization by 33% around the world; however, the lack of planning and impromptu piecemeal responses to waste management issues observed in India might indicate a much wider gap. This means urban Indians will have to wait longer than an average urban citizen of our world for access to better waste management infrastructure.

The clear trend in the outbreak of epidemic and public protests around India is that they are happening in the biggest cities in their respective regions. Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Srinagar are capitals of their respective states, and Coimbatore is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. However, long term national level plans to improve waste management in India do not exist and guidance offered to urban local bodies is meager.

Apart from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), there has been no national level effort required to address the problem. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating the industry and local governments, it was not enough to address the scale and extent of the problem. This is because of JnNURM is not a long term financing program, sorts of which are required to tackle issues like solid waste management.

Role of Municipal Corporations

In the short term, municipal corporations have their hands tied and will not be able to deliver solutions immediately. They face the task of realizing waste management facilities inside or near cities while none of their citizens want them near their residences. Officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals for about eight years now for a new landfill site, to no avail.

In spite of the mounting pressure, most corporations will not be able to close the dumpsites that they are currently using. This might not be the good news for which local residents could be waiting, but, it is important that bureaucrats, municipal officials and politicians be clear about it. Residents near Vellalore dump protested and blocked roads leading to the site because Coimbatore municipal officials repeatedly failed to fulfill their promises after every landfill fire incident.

Due to lack of existing alternatives, other than diverting waste fractionally by increasing informal recycling sector’s role, closing existing landfills would mean finding new sites. Finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible because of the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon.

However, the corporations can and should take measures to reduce landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution due to leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This will provide much needed relief to adjacent communities and give the corporations time to plan better. While navigating through an issue as sensitive this, it is of the utmost importance that they work closely with the community by increasing clarity and transparency.

trash-burning

Burning of municipal wastes is a common practice in developing nations

Municipal officials at the meeting repeatedly stressed the issue of scarcity of land for waste disposal, which led to overflowing dumpsites and waste treatment facilities receiving more waste than what they were designed for. Most municipal officials are of the sense that a magic solution is right around the corner which will turn all of their city’s waste into fuel oil or gas, or into recycled products.

While such conversion is technologically possible with infinite energy and financial sources, that is not the reality. Despite their inability to properly manage wastes, the majority of municipal officials consider waste as “wealth” when approached by private partners. Therefore, a significant portion of officials expect royalty from private investments without sharing business risk.

Good News on the Horizon

While the situation across India is grim and official action has to be demanded through courts or public protests, there are a handful of local governments which are planning ahead and leading the way. The steps taken to solve New Delhi’s waste management problem is laudable. If it was not for the kind of leadership and determination showcased in Delhi, India would not have had its only operating WTE plant. This plant was built in 2011, at a time when the need for waste-to-energy plants was being felt all over India. 1300 tons of Delhi’s waste goes into this facility every day to generate electricity. The successful operation of this facility reinvigorated dormant projects across the nation.

After living with heaps of garbage for months, Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation started penalizing institutions which dump their waste openly. It has also increased the subsidy on the cost of small scale biogas units to 75% and aerobic composting units to 90% to encourage decentralized waste management. The corporation is optimistic with the increase in number of applications for the subsidy from 10 in an entire year to 18 in just a few months after the announcement.

In Bengaluru, improper waste management led to the change of the city’s municipal commissioner. The new commissioner was handed over the job to particularly improve waste management in the city. As a response to the dengue outbreak in Kolkata, the state’s Chief Minister went door to door to create awareness about waste management, and also included the topic in her public speeches. For good or bad, many cities in India have started or initiated steps for banning plastics without performing life cycle analyses.

Waste Management Outlook for Nigeria

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa with population exceeding 182 million people, is grappling with waste management issues. The country generates around 43.2 million tonnes of waste annually. By 2025 with a population of 233.5 million, Nigeria will be generating an estimated 72.46 million tonnes of waste annually at a projected rate of 0.85 kg of waste/capita/day. This means that Nigeria annual waste generation will almost equal its crude oil production which currently stands at approximately 89.63 million tonnes per year.

waste-nigeria

Also, at an estimated annual waste generation figure of 72.46 million tonnes, Nigeria will be generating about one-fourth of the total waste that will be produced in the whole of Africa. This is scary and if proper attention is not paid to this enormous challenge, Nigeria might become the “Waste Capital of Africa”.

Waste is a Resource for Nigeria

Nonetheless, this challenge can be turned into a blessing because waste is a resource in disguise. If its potential is properly tapped, waste management can create employment, enable power generation, create a waste-based economy and contribute to economic diversification which Nigeria. There is no doubt that this is achievable because we have examples of countries already utilizing their waste judiciously.

Some good examples of sustainable waste management systems that can be implemented in Nigeria includes

  1. Shanghai (China) which turn 50% of the generated waste into power generation electrifying 100,000 homes;
  2. Incheon (South Korea) where its Sudokwon landfill receives about 20,000 tons of waste daily which is converted into electric power, has a water recycling and desalination facility, and has created more than 200 jobs;
  3. Los Angeles (USA) which produces electric power enough for 70,000 homes in its Puente Hills landfill;
  4. Germany whose sophisticated waste processing systems through recycling, composting, and energy generation has already saved the country 20% of the cost of metals and 3% of the cost of energy imports;
  5. Austria, though a small country, is doing big things in waste management especially through recycling;
  6. Sweden, whose recycling is so revolutionary that the country had to import waste; and
  7. Flanders, Belgium which possesses the best waste diversion rate in Europe with 75% of their waste being reused, recycled or composted. An interesting fact is that per capita waste generation rate in Flanders is more than twice that of Nigeria at 1.5 kg/day.

Waste Management Outlook for Nigeria

Below are some of the major things the government need to do to judiciously utilize the free and abundant resource available in the form of trash in Nigeria:

Firstly, attention needs to be paid to building the human resource potential of the country to build the required capacity in conceptualizing fit-for-purpose innovative solution to be deployed in tackling and solving the waste challenge.

While knowledge exchange/transfer through international public private partnership is a possible way in providing waste management solution, it is not sustainable for the country especially because there is already an unemployment problem in Nigeria. Hence, funding the training of interested and passionate individuals and entrepreneurs in waste management is a better way of tackling the waste crisis in Nigeria.

Olusosun is the largest dumpsite in Nigeria

The Federal Government through the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) of the Ministry of Communication currently sponsor students to study oil and gas as well as information technology related subjects in foreign countries in the hope of boosting manpower in both sectors of the economy. The same approach should be used in the waste management sector and this can be handled through the Federal Ministry of Environment.

Interestingly, waste generation is almost at par with crude oil production in Nigeria. Therefore, equal attention should be paid to waste-to-wealth sector. Needless to say, this is important as there is no university in Nigeria currently offering waste management as a stand-alone course either at undergraduate or postgraduate level.

The Rationale for National Waste Strategy

Secondly, there is an urgent need for a strong National Waste Management Strategy to checkmate the different types of waste that enters the country’s waste stream as well as the quantity of waste being produced. To develop an effective national waste strategy, a study should be carried out to understand the country’s current stream of waste, generation pattern, and existing management approach. This should be championed by the Federal Ministry of Environment in conjunction with State and Local Government waste management authorities.

Once this is done, each State of the Federation will now integrate their own individual State Waste Management Plan into that of the Federal Government to achieve a holistic waste management development in Nigeria. By so doing, the government would also contribute to climate change mitigation because the methane produced when waste degrades is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas known to many and contributor to global warming).

The Need for Financial Incentives

Finally, the government needs to support existing waste management initiatives either through tax-holiday on major equipment that need to be imported for their work and/or on their operation for a certain period of time. Also, if workable, the government can float a grant for innovative ideas and provide liberal subsidies in waste management to jumpstart the growth of the sector.

Lastly, the Government of Nigeria can raise a delegation of experts, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, academia, and youngsters to visit countries with sound waste management strategy for knowledge sharing, capacity-building, technology transfer and first-hand experience.

Note: The unedited version of the article can be found at this link

Preparing an Effective Industrial Waste Management Plan

Did you realize over 7 billion tons of industrial waste is produced in the United States each year? If you are the owner of an industrial business, having an adequate waste management plan is essential. Without a waste management plan, you run the risk of doing a lot of damage to the environment.

If you are new to the world of industrial waste management, you need to take your time when develop a plan of action. Consulting with waste management professionals is a great way to ensure the plan you develop is successful. Below are few crucial tips to  prepare an effective industrial waste management plan.

industrial-waste

Collaborating With the Right Waste Management Company

Unless your company has the ability to transport and dispose of industrial waste, you will need to work with a third-party. Most business owners fail to realize just how many different waste management companies there are on the market. Ideally, you want to find a company that offers services like industrial cleaning, hazardous material transportation and spill response.

If you need services like this for a competitive price, you need to go through PROS Services. By pairing with the right waste management company, you can avoid making mistakes when it comes to disposing of hazardous and non-hazardous materials.

Make Recycling a Focal Point of Your Strategy

Being a business owner in the modern age requires you to be more eco-conscious. One of the best ways for an industrial business to do their part for the environment is by recycling as much as possible. When running an industrial business, you will undoubtedly have a number of recyclable materials. Turning these materials over to companies that can actually do something with them is imperative.

waste-management-plan

Making a new recycling program work will require to get your entire team on board. Informing your team about the importance of recycling is the first step in making your program successful. You also need to implement easy and effective solutions when it comes to how your team will store the recyclable materials. By laying out the details of your plan, you can address any concerns your team may have.

Leave Flexibility in Your Plan

As waste management technology and requirements change, you will have to adapt your strategy. This is why leaving a high-degree of flexibility in your plan is so important. Accomplishing this will be easy if you do things like sign short-term contracts with the companies hired to dispose of your industrial waste. Staying on the cutting edge of industrial waste management technology can help you see when changes are coming and what you can do to embrace these changes.

Don’t Wait to Implement Your Plan

As you can see, having a way to properly dispose of industrial waste is important. This is why you need to avoid procrastinating when developing a plan of action. Allowing professionals to weigh in on the details of your waste management plan can help you avoid making mistakes.

Plastic Packaging Waste in the Philippines: An Analysis

I recently took a 5-month break from my work as an environmental consultant to volunteer with Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) on the issue of marine litter. During the first few months of my stint there, we undertook an intense programme of beach cleans across sections of a small sample of local beaches. The idea was to find out what kinds of material were most prevalent, to inform the types of local initiative we could set up to try and tackle the issues.

Consistently, the vast majority of the debris we found strewn across the beaches across the Philippines was plastic; a significant amount of that was soft plastics which can’t be recycled – plastic bags, sweet and crisp packets, and single use soap and detergent sachets. There were some variations, though: at one beach, we kept picking up a staggering amount of styrofoam.

During our beach clean work and engagement with local communities, it became increasingly apparent that part of the problem was the variability of waste management across the municipality of Zamboanguita, in the Negros Oriental province of the Philippines.

Despite national legislation, some areas received no formal waste collections at all. With the help of the local Coastal Resources Manager, Tony Yocor, we began to engage with the local municipality’s Solid Waste Manager with the view to supporting appropriate an affordable waste management practices.

We focused on solutions that have been successful elsewhere in the Philippines and in other emerging markets, such as the local collection and waste sorting approach developed by Mother Earth Foundation. Unfortunately, as with most places in the world, influencing the authorities to act takes time, and whilst we started to make some progress, Tony and the staff at MCP are still working on trying to get the full range of local solutions we identified implemented.

Materials and markets

We did, however, build our own ‘MRF’ (more of a community recycling centre in UK terms) at MCP’s base to improve the management of the waste we collected. The main aim of the site is to allow as many recyclable materials as possible to be segregated so that they can be sold to the local junk shops. We also hope that this can act as a demonstration site for the types of simple solutions that can be set up locally to improve waste management.

But ultimately, if we are serious about tackling this issue of marine debris, we have to reduce the amount of litter we produce, and many countries are making progress on tackling commonly littered items. Restrictions on single use carrier bags are amongst the most prominent and widespread anti-littering measures around the world.

England’s 5p carrier bag levy was introduced in 2015 and, despite its limitations, is reducing bag usage and (it would seem) marine litter. Last year Kenya hit the headlines when it joined the growing list of countries adopting a rather stricter line: it banned plastic carrier bags entirely, with offenders risking heavy fines or even imprisonment.

Although bans and restrictions are becoming increasingly widespread, they have not yet reached the Philippines at a national level and it seems no coincidence that a large proportion of the items we found littered on our sample beaches around Zamboanguita were plastic bags. One beach, close to where the largest ‘ghetto’ market is held weekly, had a particularly high incidence of plastic bag litter, and the quantity increased noticeably on, and just after, market day. Use wholesale tote bags to promote sustainable living in the Philippines.

Without national instruments in place, we explored what could be done with the policy powers available to the local government. Working with the local Markets Officer and Coastal Resources Manager we put the wheels in motion to propose and implement a local ordinance to introduce a charge on plastic bags, initially at the market as a trial, with the potential for a wider roll-out if successful. It’s a model that could be reapplied elsewhere in the Philippines if national legislation isn’t forthcoming.

Sachet and sea?

Plastic bags are a challenge, but because they’re distributed locally it’s relatively easy to change practices. Other forms of single use packaging contribute just as much to the litter problem afflicting many South East Asian counties, but are harder to tackle because their source is more remote.

The Philippines, like many developing and emerging economies, is a ‘sachet economy’, with a huge range of products sold in one-portion, single-use sachets. You see them everywhere, from small ‘sari sari’ stalls to large shopping centres. The producers’ perspective is that this form of packaging represents a form of social responsibility, allowing them to provide safe, long-lasting, affordable products that meet people’s needs. However, they have a wider cost.

Sachet society: one of the most common forms of litter in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Amy Slack.

I was involved in Break Free from Plastic Negros Oriental’s December beach clean and audit, and these sachets were the most common item we found. They accounted for a massive 25% of the items picked up from Dumaguete beach, beating plastic bags into second place (13%).

The waste management system in the Philippines simply isn’t geared up to dealing with this increasingly popular type of packaging – the composite materials of which they are made are impractical to recycle and so lack the economic value that engages the interest of the informal sector. So, what could be done to help?

The Best Foot Forward

There is no ‘silver bullet’ to instantly lay marine litter to rest. Even if there was a global ban on single use plastics today, it would take time for already littered material to blow or wash its way through the system.

However, introducing a compulsory extended producer responsibility (EPR) mechanism into policy could help end the blame game that currently impedes action: producers blame the general public for littering, the general public blame the government for inadequate waste systems, and government blames produces for manufacturing plastic packaging.

An EPR scheme would see government giving clear responsibilities to business, and ensuring that producers fund collection and reprocessing schemes to properly manage the waste from the products they sell in the Philippines. That would in turn incentivise producers to use more easily recyclable packaging, as the costs of managing this material would be lower.

The goal need not be to try to ape the waste management systems of the West, which may not be suitable in the circumstances. And in the Philippines, where labour is cheap and informal waste management thrives, it may take little more than giving a small value to packaging products to greatly reduce the amount of material that escapes into the environment.

Conclusion

Although countries like the Philippines currently struggle most to cope with the consequences of plastic packaging waste, with the right set of policies and determined volunteers to help organise local action, there is scope for them to catch up and overhaul the West in developing solutions that really do reduce litter.

Note: The article has been republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original version of the article can be found at this link

Waste Management in Global North and Global South

Waste management is highly context specific. Therefore it is important to distinguish between the conditions in the Global North and the Global South. Recent ILO figures suggest that 24 million people around the world are involved in the informal waste recycling sector, 80% of whom are waste pickers. Some estimates say that 1% of urban population in developing countries makes their primary household income through informal sector waste management activities.  In Latin America alone, 4-5 million waste pickers earn their livelihood by being a part of the global recyclables supply chain.

waste-management-latin-america

Municipal budgets in the Global South are often limited and only a small percentage of that budget is assigned to waste management as compared to other municipal services. In the Global North waste management is recognized as a necessary public good and there is a greater willingness to pay for this service. Solid waste management (e.g. waste collection, transportation and recycling) is generally more labour intensive than in North America and Europe.

Urbanization in the Global South is often haphazard and unplanned; creating pockets of high and low income neighbourhoods. This creates logistical issues for the waste management service provision limiting options for viable waste collection and transportation. It is often the informal sector that steps in to fill this service gap.

The maturity and strength of the legal framework differs between the Global South and Global North. In North America and Europe the legal framework of waste management actively promotes and provides incentives for waste reduction, reuse and recovery whereas, despite recent developments in some countries, in Latin America legal frameworks remain focused upon mixed waste collection, transportation and disposal.

Recycling rates in Argentina are at 11% of the total waste stream with 95% of this material is recovered by the informal sector. This situation is replicated in many other countries. The informal sector recovers between 50% (e.g. Mexico) and 90% (e.g. Nicaragua) of the waste recovered and in the different countries of the region. Resource recovery and recycling is driven by market conditions. Materials that have a value are diverted from landfill through an informal network of recyclers and waste collectors.

The composition of waste is also very different in the Global South where organic waste is a much larger percentage of the waste stream. Because of the high percentage of organics in the waste stream in many cities in the Global South, innovations in decentralised composting and small scale biogas have been seen across the Global South (particularly in India) and can be used effectively by the informal sector, making a zero waste future a real possibility.

Role of Informal Recycling Sector

The informal sector can be highly effective at collecting and diverting garbage from landfill. When empowered with a facilitating legal framework, and collectively organized, the informal sector can be a key part of a sustainable resource recovery system. Using people power to increase recycling and diversion rates decreases the need for expensive, fixed, high technology solutions.

Understanding that the context for waste management is different between the Global North and Global South, and even in different areas within a city or region, means that no two situations will be the same. However, if there is one principle to follow it may well be to consider the context and look for the simplest solution. The greenest cities of the future may well be those that use flexible, adaptable solutions and maximize the work that the informal sector is already doing.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link

Plastic Wastes and Role of EPR

In just a few decades plastics have become omnipresent in our society. But, unfortunately, the consequences of their use last far beyond their useful lifetime. Everyone is aware of their overwhelming dispersion in our landscapes. The situation in the oceans is not better [1]. As a reaction, a few thoughts spring to my mind.

First of all, it is clear that the industry is assuming very little responsibility, and that Public Administrations are complicit with this. Extended Producer Pesponsibility (abbreviated as EPR) only affects –and only partially– those plastics used as light packaging, in vehicles, in tyres or as part of electric and electronic equipment, not any of the others. Also, recycling levels are not sufficiently high, as a result of poor separate collection systems and inefficient treatment facilities. As a consequence, society has to face not only the problems created by those materials which are not recycled, but also has to assume a high share of the costs of managing them as waste.

Secondly, it illustrates the importance of the quality of the materials that we aim to recycle, and thus the importance of separate waste collection; for all materials, but particularly for biowaste. Although most composting and anaerobic digestion facilities have the capacity to separate some of the impurities (of which around 40% can be plastics), this separation is far from perfect.

Two recent studies confirm that the quality of compost is influenced by the presence of impurities in biowaste [2] and that, in turn, the presence of impurities is influenced by several factors [3], among which particularly the type of separate collection scheme, door to door separate collection models being those presenting better results.

Thirdly, it makes clear the urgency to adopt measures that address the root of the problem. High quality separate collection and sound waste treatment are necessary, and allow enormous room for improvement, but they are end-of-pipe solutions. It is also important to promote greener consumption patterns through environmental awareness campaigns, but this is not enough either.

We have to address the problem where it is created. And this requires measures of higher impact, such as taxes on certain products (e.g. disposable ones) or on certain materials, compulsory consideration of eco-design criteria, generalisation of the extended producer responsibility or prohibition of certain plastics (e.g. oxo-degradable ones) or of certain uses (e.g. microplastic beads in cosmetics).

glitter-plastic-pollution

One can think that these measures are a bit too hard, but honestly, after wandering around beaches and mountains, and finding plastics absolutely everywhere, I am bit disappointed with the outcome of soft solutions.

On 16th January 2018 the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was adopted [4]. A number of measures will need to be applied by the European Union (listed in Annex I of the Strategy), by Member States and by the industry (Annex II), but also by Regional Governments and Local Authorities. No doubt that implementing the Strategy will bring about significant advances, but only time will say if it is sufficient to address the huge challenge we face.

The European Union has also recently adopted the much-awaited Directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment [5], which introduces several bans and restrictions on different uses and materials. This is indeed a huge step, which needs to be followed by others, both in Europe, but also elsewhere, as this is truly a global challenge.

Note: An earlier version of this article was published in February 2018: https://mailchi.mp/db1fd794d528/sent-11-april-2018

References

[1] See for example: https://tinyurl.com/yxra3cod

[2] Campos Rodrigues, L., Puig Ventosa, I., López, M., Martínez, X. (2016) Anàlisi de la incidència dels impropis de la FORM sobre la qualitat del compost de les plantes de compostatge de Catalunya https://tinyurl.com/y37ncton

[3] Puig-Ventosa, I., Freire-González, J., Jofra-Sora, M. (2013) Determining factors for the presence of impurities in selectively collected biowaste, Waste Management and Research, 31: 510-517.

[4] The strategy and several accompanying documents can be found in this portal: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/plastic_waste.htm

[5] Directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment.

Why Going Green is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Community

As we go about our daily lives, it’s always a good idea to think about how we can contribute to the community we belong to in tangible and appreciable ways. Improving our communities from the inside not only allows us to make things easier and more convenient for ourselves, but also for the people we meet and rely upon in our day-to-day. Besides this, it also helps us think of other people’s needs rather than just our own—an essential need if we’re to live happy and productive lives. One of the best ways of improving our communities is, of course, going green: the act of adopting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. This means taking active steps to minimize our carbon footprint and reducing waste.

It doesn’t have to start out big—we can start with the smaller things, and work our way up from there. Instead of buying new printer ink cartridges, for example, we can try using compatible ink cartridges instead. These are ink cartridges that are made the same way as new printer ink cartridges, but cost way less to make than branded ones. Instead of throwing away our old or obsolete electronics and electrical goods, we can look into getting them repaired. Another example of that is to refurbish old drones instead of buying new.

By taking up these eco-friendly practices, our communities will become cleaner, more energy-efficient, and much healthier places to live in, alongside other very practical and tangible benefits that everyone will appreciate.

Not convinced? Well, hopefully listing out those benefits in full below will convince you. Read on as we go through all the biggest reasons why going green is the best thing you can do for your community.

A healthier community

Enacting green and eco-friendly practices in your community will have the immediate effect of making it healthier for the individuals who live in it, enabling them to live longer, happier, and more productive lives. This can be considered as the most important benefit, seeing as we can tie so many health conditions and diseases to having an environmentally-negligent lifestyle. By going green, you can avoid these potential risks from taking hold in your community.

For example, recycling and minimizing trash or garbage helps makes your immediate surroundings cleaner and more attractive to look at. This causes disease-carrying pests such as insects and rodents to be driven away from your community, which then results in less people catching those diseases.

Another example is having the vehicles in your community switch to more eco-friendly fuel types will result in cleaner and healthier air, as well as reduce the chances of children and the elderly from getting respiratory diseases. Many companies like popgear use recycled material in their clothing. These and a whole lot more are attainable by going green.

Recommended Reading: A Helpful Guide to Electronic Waste Recycling

Savings on utility bills and other expenses

One of the main tenets of going green is to be conservative when it comes to the usage of utilities, such as electricity, gas, water, and so on. It goes without saying that using too much of these obviously strains the environment.

For example, the excessive and unnecessary use of electricity when it’s clearly not needed increases the power demand from power plants, which in turn increases the amount of fuel being used to supply that energy. This uses up our remaining fossil fuels at an alarming rate, while also depositing more pollutants into the atmosphere and environment. The same goes for gas and other utilities.

By being smarter and more conscious about using these precious resources in our homes, we can reduce the impact we have on the environment by quite a large degree. It will help ease the strain our environment is currently experiencing in providing us these resources and ensure that they don’t run out as quickly as they would have if we continued being unnecessarily wasteful with our usage.

Besides this, conserving energy and resources also helps us save on our utility bills. Obviously, the less power, water, and gas we use in our day-to-day, the less we’ll be charged when our monthly bills come in. Up to 20% of expanses per household, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, are saved, especially if we adopt changes such as using solar panels rather than relying on our electrical grid. This is a huge chunk of money no matter how you slice it!

Durable and stronger homes and and structures

Let’s not mince words about it: eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious “green” products are more expensive than the brands that have an easier time fitting into our budget. However, we must consider that the former is also much more durable than the latter, which will inevitably result in a lot of savings in the long run.

This can be seen the most in building construction materials, especially those involved in the building and repair of homes. For example, recycled decking, which is made from recycled plastic and wooden fibers, have been tested to last five times longer than traditional decking.

Bamboo, a self-sustaining perennial grass that can grow up to three feet in 24 hours, is lighter than most building materials and yet has greater compressive strength than brick and concrete. The best part about it is that it grows faster than it can be harvested, meaning that there’s no danger of running out of it anytime soon, no matter how extensively it’s used.

By creating your community’s homes and structures using these eco-friendly materials, you can help save the environment while also ensuring that the homes and shelters will last for as long as they’re needed.

A self-sufficient community

It’s a fact of life that we have to rely on big companies to get us the modern conveniences and essentials we need to get through the day. However, by going green, we can help reduce our reliance on them and become more independent in our lives.

For example, taking the initiative to install solar panels in every home in your community will allow it to become less dependent on the power that companies provide you with electricity. With enough time, your community will be generating enough excess power that the same company will be paying you for that excess. There’s also the fact that if something goes wrong with the power plant, your community won’t be subjected to the same annoying and disruptive blackout that other surrounding neighborhoods will be, as you’ll have enough solar power to last you the entire time.

college-green

Let’s say you’re not quite at that level yet, in terms of going green. How about supporting your local markets rather than your nearby supermarket? By doing so, you ensure that the food-growing sector of your community continues to earn a living while also retaining the ability to keep growing natural and organic produce. Doing so also cuts down on harmful emissions, as you won’t have to travel by car just to get the fresh food you need. Your community retains its independence while helping the environment.

Conclusion

There are many ways to improve one’s community from the inside, with one of the major and more effective ones being able to adopt eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious practices. By doing so, not only does the community benefit hugely in the end in terms of health, sustainability, and independence from big companies, but the environment as well.

Recycling Outlook for Latin America

Latin America has one of the highest rates of urbanization in the world (80% urban population). By 2050, 90% of Latin America’s population will live in urban areas. This high rate of urbanization coupled with the global economic crisis has resulted in a waste management crisis. Municipalities find themselves unable to keep up with providing services and infrastructure to the urban populations.

recycling-latin-america

Some cities in Latin America are facing this challenge by integrating the informal sector recyclers who are already active in their cities into the municipal solid waste management systems. In many cities, these “recicladores”, “cartoneros” or “catadores” (a few of the many names used for these workers in the region) are responsible for up to 90% of the recyclable waste recovered from the waste stream. Their work reduces municipal waste transportation costs, increases landfill lifetimes and supports the recycling chain throughout the region.

State of the Affairs

Every location presents its own challenges–there is no one-size-fits-all solution for integrated solid waste management systems–but relevant lessons can be drawn from both failed attempts and successful examples of informal sector integration in recycling systems in Latin America.

There are often two very different contexts within cities. In low-income neighborhoods waste collection services are often not provided and individuals and families accumulate and then sell their recyclables for additional income. In contrast, residents in high income neighborhoods do receive a waste collection service and their motivation for recycling is often related to greater levels of environmental awareness. It is important to consider these differences when designing waste management solutions.

Imported systems, and even locally derived systems based on examples from the Global North, generally focus on only one waste management scenario, making it difficult to manage the multiple competing scenarios in many cities in Latin America. There is often a bias towards the automation of waste management services, with the application of the high technology solutions used in the Global North.

Regardless of the practicality or scientific evidence against certain high tech solutions, these are often sought after, thought to raise the bar of the city, to make it appear more sophisticated and modern. This leads to a misconception that working with informal sector is a step backwards in terms of urban development and modernization.

Waste management projects based on public-private partnership (PPP) model has more chances of success in developing countries

Conflicts between private waste management companies, the municipality and informal recyclers are common. The waste management companies do not want pickers on the landfill and wastepickers then go to the municipality for help. However, municipalities usually have very little experience to support the integration of formal and informal waste sectors.

There are opportunities for new systems to emerge within this conflict. For example, during a similar conflict in Mexicali, Mundo Sustentable, with the help of Danone, intervened to help a private company work with the informal waste sector and improve recycling rates.

The Way Forward

In Latin America, there is a great opportunity to increase recycling rates by using labour-intensive solutions, which create jobs and support the development of a better urban environment in the cities. Municipal governments should be an integral part of these processes as they are usually responsible for solid waste management at local level. The key to catalyzing informal recycling sector integration will be the development and dissemination of successful examples.

Informal recyclers provide important a range of services to municipalities (such as waste collection and recovery in communities that would not otherwise have access to them), as well as cost savings (for example, the extension of landfill life and reduced transport costs), yet are rarely compensated for these benefits. Informal recyclers further form the foundation of an entire recycling supply chain, which ultimately benefits formal businesses, and often aliment entire local economies.

Challenges to Overcome

Municipal governments are often hesitant to work with informal actors, who are frequently seen as an unknown quantity. Yet often in the process of working and developing relations with informal recycler groups, their concerns diminish and they may actually exhibit enthusiasm. Likewise, the recyclers may gain in confidence and professionalism in their experience of formalization.

One major challenge facing efforts to integrate the informal sector in developing countries is the desire of some local governments to adopt technological solutions that appear more “modern.” In much of Latin America, however, low-cost, low-tech solutions tend to be more viable and sustainable.

The main difference between Latin America and the countries of the Global North is that solid waste management is a labor intensive system. It is made up of workers and hence has an important social component. The ILO estimated there is 24 million of people working in the global recycling supply chain, but those at the bottom of the pyramid, the wastepickers, make up 80%. They remain the lowest paid even though they make an enormous contribution to their cities.

It is important to understand that highly sophisticated, high technology systems are not required for effective resource recovery. In many cities in Latin America between 80-90% of everything that is recycled is recovered by the informal recycling sector.

Despite the fact that there is little or no public investment in waste management or recycling infrastructure, cities with an active informal sector reach twice the rate of fully formalized municipal solid waste management systems. As an example, the recycling rate is 60% in Cairo, while in Rotterdam (and other cities in the Global North) recycling levels only reach 30%, even with a high public investment in the system (UN Habitat, 2010).

When designing infrastructure and waste management systems we must consider not only the waste management and resource recovery needs but also the social side of the system. In order to be effective, efforts to upgrade waste management services should go hand in hand with efforts to formalise and integrate the informal sector.

Bogota – A Success Story

An example of a recent success story is that after 27 years of struggle, the waste pickers in Bogota, Colombia have managed to change the government’s outlook on their work and their existence. They are now included in the system and are paid per tonne of waste collected, just like any other private sector collection and waste management company would be. They have become recognized as public service providers, acknowledged for their contribution to the environment and public health of the city.

The key challenge is to be much more creative and understand that in order to improve the working conditions of waste pickers and in order to increase recycling rates, we don’t need high technology. We need a systemic approach and this can be very simple sometimes infrastructure as simple as a roof [on a sorting area] can be effective in improving working conditions.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link