Recycling in Chile: A Promising Start to Close the Loop

On May 17, Chile’s President Bachelet signed a new framework law that supports recycling in the country. Consequently, a whole new market will be developed. The South American Country is on its way to build up a sustainable waste management, including waste separation, treatment and processing.

Since 2010, Chile is the first South American country that joined the OECD pledging its full dedication to achieving the organization’s fundamental goals. One of the obligations within the OECD framework is the improvement of waste management and the introduction of a circular economy. Due to an insufficient legal basis regarding this topic, a new framework law for the so called extended producer responsibility (EPR) was presented to the Chilean Chamber of Deputies during the second term of 2013. This law would establish a structure for the management of products beyond their end-of-life introducing the concept of extended producer responsibility. Regulated products are packaging, WEEE, batteries, lubricants and waste oils as well as tires. The aim: minimizing waste generation and incentivising reuse, recycling or recovery.

President Bachelet (center) and Pablo Badenier,  Minister of Environment (right), signing the law on May 17 (Photo: Reclay)

President Bachelet (center) and Pablo Badenier,
Minister of Environment (right), signing the law on May 17 (Photo: Reclay)

After almost three years of discussions, negotiations and adaptions, the law was eventually promulgated on May 17 by Chile’s President and the Minister of Environment, Pablo Badenier. Minister Badenier put emphasis on the necessity of the aforementioned law for the country: “In Chile, we have a high and increasing rate of household waste production, summing up to 7 million tons, but we do not recycle more than 10 percent which is low compared to developed countries.“

Having a look at the development of the country in recent years, Chile is on the brink of transition – from being an emerging to a developed country. Chile has been one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies over the past decade; but it still faces important challenges. Notwithstanding its strong growth during the last two decades, the country’s per capita income lags behind other developed countries (21,980 US-Dollar was below the 41,035 US-Dollar average of OECD countries according to the World Bank).  A World Bank report also states, that due to its ambitious structural reforms, Chile has and will maintain “its status as a Latin American reference of progress whose creative public policies have become international models of good governance. ”

So, just like its macroeconomic situation its waste management sector advances. With this new reform in place, the sector will develop from a two-level (waste collection, waste disposal) to a multi-level value chain including advisory, collection, sorting, treatment and – finally – disposal services. This is a necessity. Waste management infrastructure for commingled municipal solid waste is on a more than decent level. Due to the law this will probably have to be developed towards separated collection at household level (Art. 4). In order to do so, a close collaboration between all relevant stakeholders (municipalities, waste management companies, inhabitants, etc.) is needed. Having said that, if one considers sorting and valorization as the following value chain steps, capacities are almost non-existent. Up to date, no industrial sized, fully mechanical sorting plant exists in the country. All sorting is done manually by waste management companies and by waste pickers (in Chile called “recicladores de base”).

Launch of the AMUSA/KDM/Reclay pilot for separate collection  at a school in Quilicura (Photo: Reclay)

Launch of the AMUSA/KDM/Reclay pilot for separate collection at a school in Quilicura (Photo: Reclay)

As the new framework law promotes the commonly known waste hierarchy – including recycling and reuse – building up large scale sorting capacities will be inevitable. Otherwise, recycling targets set in the upcoming regulations will not be achieved. Furthermore, capacities for the valorization of several materials have been built up. Although the markets for glass and paper recycling are well established; plastic recycling capacities are just sufficient to process mainly post-industrial waste. In this sector, it is obvious that the available capacities will not be adequate to handle the volume sorted from post-consumer waste streams. Thus, technical development and investments are needed in order to foster all possibilities the new law may offer generating business opportunities for private companies.

During the next 12 months, the Ministry of Environment will draft the needed implementation decrees for every priority product; the institution estimates that another six to 12 months are needed for the installation of an operational system.

Then again, there is much more to it than simply the legal framework as commented by Honorato Merello, professor at DUOC UC in Concepción. “Recycling is a reflex of a mature, interconnected, informed and educated society.” Promotional and educational measures are important in order to create awareness among the population and to foster opportunities. A fundamental instrument is the integration of sustainability in children’s education. It is at this age where you can influence and have an impact that will be displayed to the rest of the family – children educating the elderly in order to increase interest in recycling in Chile.

Reclay Chile SpA

The EPR consultancy as well as Compliance Scheme operator Reclay Group have been active on the Chilean market since 2012 advising public and private bodies on the introduction of an EPR law. Two years later, in December 2014, Reclay introduced, in collaboration with the Municipal Association for Sustainability, AMUSA, and KDM, the country’s leading waste management company, a pilot for selective collection of household waste. This pilot is conducted in four municipalities in Santiago – in Vitacura, Quilicura, Pudahuel and Colina.

In August 2015, the German company established a physical presence in Santiago de Chile founding the Reclay Chile SpA. The main focus of the in Las Condes based company is to give advice on the implementation of EPR in the Chilean market as well as designing and planning pilot projects in this regard. Moreover, the consultants are experienced in the technical areas like eco-design, recyclability and recycling techniques. Reclay Chile SpA is part of the Reclay Group, an international recycling and waste management service provider based in Cologne (Germany).

Photo: pixabay