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What can other emerging markets learn from Peru’s embracement of recycling?

Increased awareness of recycling in emerging markets can have a significant effect on adoption, as Peru’s efforts illustrate.

27 September 2016

By Tom Eng, Senior Vice President and Head of TOMRA Sorting Solutions, Recycling                          

The increase in the prevalence of recycling initiatives around the globe over the past 100 years has been exponential and is now firmly on government and social agendas in several countries.

However, while initiatives and cultural thinking has been implemented with great success across regions such as Western Europe, much work remains to encourage adoption across relatively emerging markets.

For many years, South America and Asia have lacked the systems and processes to help encourage and implement recycling on a large scale, but this has slowly begun to change in recent times as the benefits become more widely communicated and inaugural approaches produce tangible results.

One model is that adopted by Peru; a nation where just two percent of people recycled in 2009, resulting in an accumulation of landfill sites that affect not only the landscape, but potentially public health.

Recycling legislation

In 2011, Peru’s Ministry of Environment estimated that the amount of waste from each household would triple by 2021 if action was not taken to combat the problem, and therefore introduced a new law that regulated the collection of discarded waste.

A new national recycling program was also introduced in the country, aimed at initially ensuring that 25 percent of all waste was being recycled. It was calculated that an almost immediate impact could be had through encouraging the population to recycle relatively large and easily identifiable goods such as plastic bottles, glass and metal products.

Peru’s National Environmental Action Plan also set out an ambitious goal of ensuring 100 percent of recyclable materials were being reused by 2021, which would be a significant leap on the five per cent that was being recycled by 2011, but indicated the country’s commitment to embracing recycling.

In the following years, adoption has increased significantly, catalyzed by education around the benefits of recycling and ongoing efforts to remove other stigmas associated with the activity.

Fundamental education

Work on a more fundamental level has taken place to educate communities about the benefits of recycling, which has, in turn, led to the creation of schemes such as Peru’s Municipal Modernization Program, which provides economic incentives to local municipalities to improve their recycling processes and separate waste.

Municipalities have also been given power over recycling regulation, which has included a move to educate the public that those who remove recyclable material from waste should be viewed as business people, rather than looked down on; a perception that still exists in other emerging markets.

Separated waste is also feeding back into the local economy, with around 80 percent of this material being processed and remaining in the country, and 20 percent being exported.

Of course, with such a highly ambitious target in place, work still needs to be done to help Peru achieve its aim of 100 percent of recyclable waste being processed by 2021.

A key challenge is the recovery of small recyclable materials that often comprise part of a large item, and for which removal and sorting can be either too time-consuming for consumers and businesses, or simply not something they are willing to do.

This creates a clear crossover between consumer activity and technology, where innovative means of recognizing recyclable material and sorting can help to minimize the amount of recyclable material that is being wasted.

Targeting the consumer journey

Work is therefore taking place across the entire consumer journey, from packaging, to waste disposal, and teaching people to use three types of bins in their households; one for recyclable materials, another for organic waste, and the final one for legitimate waste, which will then go to landfill.

The journey is far from complete, with 20 landfill sites being built across Peru in 2015 to cope with the demand, but the proportion of people who recycle is continuing to grow, and increased cooperation between the government and local municipalities is continuing to address the problem.

Karla Bolanos, national coordinator of Peru’s national recycling program, says that Peru’s recycling activity and schemes should act as an example to the rest of South America that much can be achieved in a short space of time if nations commit to embrace recycling.

It is hoped that, by following the example, the region can help to catalyze global recycling adoption and ensure that emerging markets are supplementing the work done in countries where widespread recycling adoption is prevalent.

After working for several years in this area, TOMRA has been closely observing this trend, and particularly in Peru, where our customer base is continuing to grow. Among them are major players in their segments, whose advocacy is helping to foster and drive adoption and education around the issue.

Education remains one of the most useful tools in broadening the embracement of recycling, particularly in emerging markets, and through communicating the benefits and opportunities available, adoption and implementation will continue to increase.