Extended producer responsibility in emerging markets: Improving recyclables recovery in Asia-Pacific
Rapid economic growth is increasing the amount of waste in emerging markets to levels beyond what their current collection, recycling and disposal infrastructure can handle. As a result, recycling rates for recyclable packaging waste often remain low. Multinational companies (MNCs) play a role in this development as they introduce their products into these markets. BSD Consulting is working with local stakeholders to increase recycling rates and improve lives on the ground.
In 2017 and 2018, reports on plastics pollution in our oceans shifted public attention to low packaging recycling rates in emerging markets. At least 8 million tons of plastic get dumped into our oceans every year, and by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Of all the plastic ever produced, a mere 9% has been recycled.
Plastic is just one of many recyclable materials that are often discarded improperly rather than being recycled. It is a similar story for electronics, paper and cardboard, and many composite packaging such as toothpaste tubes and beverage cartons. A large percentage of these materials could provide valuable input materials for new products, yet all too often they end up in landfills, rivers or oceans instead.
There is a particular sense of urgency in the Asia-Pacific region. 8 out of the 10 top marine plastic emitters and 8 out of the world’s 10 largest urban areas are located in Asia. Cities such as Jakarta, Manila and Delhi are struggling to cope with increasing waste levels. Little or no public waste separation, limited enforcement of laws, insufficient infrastructure funding, and lack of coordination between relevant stakeholders are just some of the challenges their residents face.
Marine litter emitter rank for key countries. (Foto: BSD Consulting)
Public attention is increasingly shifting to the responses offered by the large brands whose products make up a significant portion of the waste. Brands are increasingly investing in extended producer responsibility, and both local and global market heavyweights have taken action. For example, the Philippines’ San Miguel Corporation announced it will exit the bottled water business as part of its sustainability strategy. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola launched its “World Without Waste” initiative and pledged to collect the equivalent of 100% of their primary packaging by 2030.
… and solutions
Any solutions to low recycling rates must begin with understanding the specific conditions on the ground. Since 2007, as implementing partner of the Inclusive Waste Recycling Consortium (IWRC), BSD Consulting has been working with leading brands to implement bottom-of-the-pyramid solutions to waste recycling in Latin America. An expansion of this unique approach to Asia and the Pacific has been underway since 2017 with first projects in India. With new client demands, we expanded our efforts to the Philippines and Indonesia.
Left: A waterway in central Metro Manila, Philippines. Right: Waste scavengers at the garbage mountain of Bantar Gebang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. (Fotos: BSD Consulting)
A group of stakeholders that is key in this context are informal waste sector workers, also referred to as waste scavengers or waste pickers. In a city like Jakarta, 34% of all plastic waste generated and a majority of the plastic waste recycled is collected by the informal sector rather than municipal collection services. While recyclables recovery may not always seem like big business, it often provides a livelihood to the poorest of the poor. In the absence of public infrastructure, they are often a pivotal player in recycling recovery in emerging markets.
On recent travels to the Jakarta and Manila areas, BSD’s consultants met with informal waste sector workers, community representatives, NGOs and local businesses to develop locally adapted solutions to increase recycling rates and improve lives. While informal waste workers in Indonesia are most often working for their own account, those in the Philippines are more likely to be organized in cooperatives or associations to carry out their work. In both cases, however, working conditions tend to be very poor, with a lack of even the most rudimentary safety equipment, child labor, and ineffective and inefficient working processes. In addition, not all recyclable materials can be recycled locally and may thus remain uncollected for lack of resale value.
Left: An informal worker recovering recyclable plastic bags near Jakarta, Indonesia. Workers’ homes – slum huts built on rented plots – are directly adjacent to this area. Right: A boy stands in front of his family’s house in Cabanatuan, north of Manila, Philippines. Located in a flood-prone area, the neighborhood sees residents deliver mixed trash at their residences for sorting and recovery. (Fotos: BSD Consulting)
A rare sight: The owner of this pile of empty toothpaste tubes says he has not been able to find a buyer in two years. “There is simply no market for this type of waste”, he says. The tubes are 100% recyclable. (Jakarta, Indonesia) (Foto: BSD Consulting)
The good news is that it does not have to be that way. As implementing partner of IWRC, BSD has helped informal workers professionalize their operations and improve profitability, which allows them to work in a safer and better environment. This allowed the participating multinational clients increase their actual recycling rate in a way that is effective and socially inclusive. And we have supported all stakeholders in building better relationships for the benefit of their communities and the environment.
Innovative solutions to the problem are not at all limited to working with informal workers and cooperatives. For example, brand-backed community collection schemes are increasingly popular, though some lack effectiveness. Reverse vending or deposit solutions can be attractive with or even without local authorities’ support. In all cases, understanding the local context and engaging with key local actors is crucial to achieving success.
Organizations can assess themselves to determine their exposure to the problem by answering the following questions:
- How much and what kind of recyclable wastes do our operations / our production generate?
- How much and what kind of recyclable waste do our products generate, i.e. through product packaging and disposal?
- How much of the above is being recycled?
- Which kinds of materials and which locations are non-recycled recyclable waste ‘hotspots’ for us, i.e. areas where we generate the most non-recycled waste?
- Why are the relevant waste materials not being recycled in certain places? Is the collection system deficient? Is the market price for the recyclables in question too low? Is local recycling infrastructure available?
The answers to these questions can form the basis for developing an effective solution to the organization’s waste issues.
These cooperatives of workers in Brazil are supported by a project that closed the commercial loop with multinational users of recycled material and provided adaptions of working conditions to international standards. BSD was the implementer of this project on behalf of the IWRC. (Foto: BSD Consulting, São Paulo, Brazil)
When it comes to recyclables recovery in emerging markets, BSD can support corporate clients in a wide range of endeavors. This includes support in mapping the local context, bringing together stakeholders from waste pickers to municipal authorities, improving existing collection and/or recycling processes, setting up new recyclables markets where needed, and other customized approaches.