Recycling (or not) in Chile

SANTIAGO — Mar. 1 was Global Base Recycler Day, putting recycling in the spotlight. There is reason to keep it there: on average, Chileans produce a kilo of garbage per person per day, and at least 80% do not recycle with any regularity.

Mar. 1 was Global Base Recycler (“Waste Picker”) Day. The designation was created to raise awareness about the importance of recycling at even the most basic level. According to “El País Circular,” the day has been commemorated since 1998, in recognition of the 11 waste pickers murdered at the Free University of Barranquilla in Colombia, on Mar. 1, 1992.

Recycling is needed worldwide to eliminate, or at least reduce, the environmental damage we cause by discarding reusable products. Chile alone produces 1 kilo of waste per person per day, and, according to Publimetro, “80% of Chileans do not recycle their garbage on any regular basis.”

Puntos Verdes and other options

These figures are despite the available options for recycling in Chile. According to the Ministry of Environment, as of 2018, there were 7,186 so-called puntos verdes (PVs or “green points”), where people could leave recyclables and learn about the subject.

Of this total, the top three concentrations by region are 1,572 in the Metropolitan region, 1,035 in the Araucanía region, and 969 in the Biobío region; and, in terms of types of recyclables accepted, 4,327 accept glass, 2,530 accept plastic, and 1,210 accept metal.

The PVs are not the only options. Additional puntos limpios (“clean points”), centros de recoleción (collection centers), and valorizadores de residuos (waste reclaimers) also exist.

Limited recycling despite the options

Even with all these recycling points, the Chilean response to recycling has been tepid at best, at least according to Hernán Inssen. He is the General Manager of Hope Chile, a Chilean recycling company, and, in speaking with Chile Today, he emphasized, “Chileans do NOT recycle. What we do is a part of the process, which is the separation at the source for delivery in clean points or door-to-door collection, for reclassification, processing, and dispatch of the material to the various recovery companies that use this as raw material.”

Inssen is even less sanguine about the percentage of Chileans who recycle. He says only 10% do so. In addition, because there is a lot of misinformation about which containers are recyclable (and, in Chile, many still aren’t), would-be recyclers often “breach” “the delivery format” by mixing in non-recyclables or they follow other “bad practices” that undermine the effort. At the same time, he stresses, “We are at least 20 years behind in infrastructure, collection, and implementation of waste management plans.”

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Holding producers responsible

In 2016, Chile enacted Law No. 20,920, entitled “Framework Law for Waste Management, Extended Responsibility of the Producer and Promotion of Recycling.” According to the government’s website, the law seeks to “reduce the generation of waste and encourage its reuse, recycling, and other valuation, in order to protect the health of people and the environment.”

The law introduces the Extended Producer Responsibility (REP) system, which is one of its main points. This system seeks to establish that “the producers or importers of elements that have been defined as” priority products “have the obligation to organize and finance the management of the waste originated by these products.” That is, the law obligates the producers of certain products (lubricating oils, electrical and electronic equipment, containers and packaging, tires, batteries, newspapers, and magazines) to take care of the waste these goods cause.

Chile is the first South American country to implement regulation of this type, but countries in Europe have been using it since the 1990s.

For Issen, the law is “encouraging,” but there is so much more to do. Among other things, he recommends that we find ways to reduce the cost of recycling, because, currently, the cost of “virgin material is almost similar or less than that of materials collected from recycling, which discourages” the processing and use of recycling.

See you later plastic bags

This law is not the only existing legislation that seeks to mitigate the production of waste. Since Feb. 3, 2019, Chile has also had the so-called plastic bag law—the “Chao Bolsas plásticas” (Bye plastic bags) law—that prohibits the commercial use of plastic bags.

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