On May 17th World Recycling Day was celebrated. For Latin America, there is not much to celebrate: according to the UN Environment publication of 2018, only 10% of the 541,000 tons a day of solid waste generated in this region are used, which means that 90% of the remainder goes directly to final disposal, often these are open air dumps that become major sources of contamination. At the same time, an estimated 40 million people in the region lack access to waste collection services.
On the other hand, more and more countries and cities are becoming aware of the importance of proper solid waste management and the benefits it generates: less air, water and soil pollution, improvement in public health, and generation of green jobs. and income. This is due to a global trend of countries that want to migrate towards a Circular Economy, recognizing that the economic model of "extract, produce, waste" is already reaching the limit of its physical capacity.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation , the Circular Economy is based on three principles:
1.) Eliminate waste and pollution from design,
2.) Keep products and materials in use as long as possible, and
3.) Regenerate natural systems.
In short, it decouples economic growth from the consumption of finite resources. It is a concept that goes beyond solid waste management, which until now has focused mainly on reduce-reuse-recycle because it raises a new paradigm from the design and manufacture of a product to its transformation and expands the value chain of recycled materials or products once they enter the production cycle again.
Swisscontact has been working on solid waste management for more than 20 years and in recent years it has integrated the concept of Circular Economy in its interventions. Projects were developed not only in Latin America, but also in countries such as Tanzania and Bangladesh. The different approaches and topics addressed generated multiple impacts, among which the following stand out:
To migrate towards a Circular Economy, not only do we need a national policy to promote it as well as a more aware population, but above all we need new business models. It is also necessary that actors, public, private, and academic, provide support services so that green businesses can improve the quality and quantity of the products, and services they offer, but also be more efficient in their processes and able to access new markets.
One of the projects that is promoting this issue is Markets for Recycling in Bolivia, which seeks to strengthen the business ecosystem for green businesses in the country, mainly of micro, small and medium-sized companies that carry out the recovery of certain types of waste, such as tires, batteries, and scrap metal.
The current pandemic has further highlighted the importance of proper waste management, not only as a basis for having clean and more resilient cities, but also as an opportunity for economic reactivation. Trends such as digitisation and payment for service instead of a product, growing awareness of local consumption, the shift towards shorter supply chains and the independence of goods from industrialised countries, will further boost Circular Economies in the region. It is essential to prepare local governments, private companies, and society for this transition.