CENTRAL AMERICA: Big Steps Forward for Nascent Recycling Industry

  • by Danilo Valladares (guatemala city)
  • Inter Press Service

One is the Industrial Waste Exchange of Central America and the Caribbean (BORSICCA), which began operating in August 2009. It facilitates trade in waste through an electronic marketing system for the use and reuse of the materials in the countries' production chains.

'An environmental conscience has emerged, and more companies are coming to us to ask what they should do with their waste,' René Silva, of the non- governmental National Centre for Cleaner Production and BORSICCA operator, told IPS. So far, the active members of the exchange are Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Ten months after its creation, BORSICCA had traded 8.2 tonnes of waste, mostly paper, cardboard and plastic. Promoting the endeavour is the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD).

Also driving it are the cost savings. 'The environment is not separate from the economy. We have to acquire raw materials in order to contaminate the environment. But if we prevent pollution we are also preventing the loss of money,' said Silva.

The idea of marketing waste over the Internet is not new to the region, but it shows just how much this industry has grown. 'Since 2004, Costa Rica has had the Industrial Waste and Byproduct Market, which deals with 100 to 120 tonnes of waste every six months,' Akira Hidalgo, spokesperson for the Market, told IPS.

Like BORSICCA, the inter-institutional mechanism in Costa Rica has a website where traders post what waste they have or want, and they can sell or trade it with the organisation serving as facilitator.

The advantages of recycling go far beyond saving the environment, to the extent that it has become a major generator of cash and jobs for Central America.

'As of October, Nicaragua had exported some 40 million dollars in recyclable material this year, primarily iron, while in 2009 it was 24 million dollars,' Carlos Marín, head of the Recyclers Association of Nicaragua, told IPS.

Waste as a market is relatively new in this country. 'The boom in recycling in Nicaragua coincided with that of China and India, when in 2003 and 2004 those countries began to purchase recyclable materials in large quantities,' said the entrepreneur.

In addition to the environment, this sector of the economy benefits about 25,000 Nicaraguan families, with recycling creating jobs, both directly and indirectly, said Marín.

Of course, the environmental advantages should also be considered, he said. 'It is difficult to measure the impact of recycling on the environment, but in our country the people are not accustomed to using public waste receptacles and throw their garbage on the ground, which ends up in the rivers,' he said.

To prevent this from continuing, 'it would help if the governments offered incentives to the companies that sell packaged products to collect the packaging once they've been distributed, or if they provided incentives to recycling companies,' Marín said.

The problem of poor solid waste management goes even further. Raúl Bonilla, of the Guatemalan group Friends of Nature, told IPS that there is a lack of education behind people's apathy towards protecting non-renewable resources.

That is why the Friends of Nature, founded in 2006, is dedicated to training businesses and groups in appropriate solid waste management, as well as collecting recyclable waste in Guatemala, he said.

And this activity is just taking off. 'In 2006 we collected a total of 96 metric tonnes of recyclable waste, while by October of this year we collected 1,250 tonnes,' he said.

Cost savings, environmental awareness and new legal regulations have driven the boom in recycling, according to Bonilla.

As for the regulations, he pointed out that international standards like ISO 14000, of the International Organisation for Standardisation, have pushed for achieving 'green management' of waste products.

ISO 14001, for example, is a standard aimed at balancing profitability with an effective environmental management system.

But aside from these efforts, there is still much to be done to improve waste management in Central America.

Guatemala produces 1.26 million tonnes of garbage annually, according to the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies and the Municipal Information System. Between 60 and 70 percent of the waste is reusable, but the country lacks regulations and policies for separating waste for recycling.

This fact was underscored in the Environmental Outlook 2004 report by CCAD and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which declared as a priority 'the management, collection, transport, treatment and final disposal of domestic, industrial and hospital waste' for the region.

Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama -- the countries of the isthmus -- all face similar problems in this regard: lack of garbage collection, recycling or effective policies. The report warns that it is a situation that contributes to yet another problem: the contamination of water sources.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service