Waste away

EPR legislation needs adapting to the Latin American reality.

Latin America and the Caribbean generate about 541,000 tons/day of municipal solid waste and have a high per capita generation of 1 kg/inhabitant per day. About 90% of the municipal solid waste ends in landfill sites and the recycling rates are between 1-20% depending on the country.

As members of the OECD Mexico, Chile and Colombia are supposed to comply with the organisation’s recommendations on waste management. For example, Chile joined the OECD in 2010, and it was pressured to make progress on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation. There have been many ups and downs on the issue in Chile, but finally in 2016 a framework law was enacted which will be fully implemented this year.

Waste and recycling is a tough business in Latin America: 50% of waste is not properly disposed of and there is not 100% coverage in waste collection. Another problem is the areas of the state responsible for environmental issues do not have sufficient resources to finance, design and work on agreements between the different stakeholders to shape an EPR law. The other issue is the waste pickers that belong to the informal market. In places like Argentina the waste pickers are very strong, they have unions and they are not friends of an EPR law.

The CEO of a waste management business in Chile commented, “Chile has worked on a model to formalise and certify the informal waste sector. The EPR law forces producers to allocate resources to sort, provide tools and hire the community of waste pickers. But there are very few laws in LatAm that seek to formalise waste pickers. Furthermore, if waste pickers are not included in the system, they become EPR competitors.”

“The EPR law forces producers to allocate resources to sort, provide tools and hire the community of waste pickers.”

CEO, Waste management business, Chile

Brazil has implemented an Shared Product Responsibility (SPR) framework where it gives responsibility to all stakeholders and everyone, including waste pickers, sat at the table and created an agreement with local governments. In this case, waste pickers are the operational force and control the logistics and the companies only finance it.

An advisor to the Brazilian government explained, “The problem is that waste pickers are not experts in logistics nor do they have the most advanced techniques to do so, etc. The truth is that this model of agreements is specific to the Brazilian reality. In Brazil, EPR legislation was not adopted because the industry was opposed to it and because of the huge community of waste pickers it has.” Mexico also has an SPR framework, adopted because the Mexican industry strongly opposed the EPR.

“The EPR legislation is a model primarily for first-world countries and needs to be adapted to the Latin American reality.”

Waste management expert, UK

A waste management expert in the UK with experience of operating in Latin America is skeptical about the effectiveness of EPR in developing countries, “The EPR legislation is a model primarily for first-world countries and needs to be adapted to the Latin American reality. For example, Argentina is a very messy country and despite having several EPR laws enacted, no one respects them. The industrialists/producers do not want to accept it … the implementation is very difficult and the enactment of laws pointless.”

We have seen a change in producers in assuming responsibility as a result of the global plastic crisis. If producers are not global in their way of promoting recycling, they will lose in the long term. The only problem now is that we have weak states … with other priorities and a lack of resources.

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