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Recycling Around the World A-Z: Guatemala

Recycling Around the World A-Z: Guatemala

Recycling Around the World A-Z: Guatemala

Recycling programmes can often be costly to implement and often waste resources. But in Guatemala, a recycling industry has grown for post-industrial and post-consumer waste and scrap.

The growth of the recycling industry in Guatemala

Recycling has created jobs in Guatemala. It has allowed families to earn money from the collection of recyclables, and has also allowed the country to earn money from exporting recyclable materials. There are many companies in Guatemala that are now involved in recycling, and they are helping the country to move towards environmental sustainability and some degree of economic prosperity. The industry has created about 2,000 jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs, which is good news for a relatively poor country.

Ecoplast: A success story

8 years ago, the owners of a plastic packaging company began a small recycling initiative called ecoplast. The company grew from having one recycling machine to a 24/7 operation with 35 full-time employees. They handle an impressive 400 kg of plastic recycling per hour. The company began recycling industrial scrap plastic, but now it handles household waste plastic too. They sell the plastic pellets they produce to other countries such as the US and China.

Why has Guatemala been so successful in building a recycling industry?

The cost of labour is cheap in Guatemala, and recycling is quite labour-intensive. Separation of the waste is required, then it needs to be cleaned. Cheaper labour costs means that the recycled product is always worth more than the original materials that went into making it.

Recycling entrepreneurs have found new ways to separate recyclable waste from general waste. Garbage sorters are stationed inside the rubbish trucks and they sort the waste as they go around on their collections. So, when the trucks arrive at the waste dump, a lot of the work is already done.

When the waste reaches the dump, it is sorted for a second time to ensure that valuable recyclables such as plastic, glass and metal are separated from the waste.

Hundreds of people in Guatemala work on the rubbish dumps, and conditions are unpleasant. Injury and illness are a common occurrence but many depend on these jobs for their livelihood.

The challenges of recycling in Guatemala

The necessary resources and logistics required for recycling are neither cheap nor always available in Guatemala. Recycling requires electricity, transport, and clean water. Some companies can spend as much as $8,000 per month on electricity, which is more than what it would cost to operate an equivalent plant in the US.

Organised crime has a foothold on recycling in Guatemala. Crime bosses only allow certain people to sort and recycle waste, then these people often have to sell the recyclable materials back to the bosses so they profit from it.

Guatemala green

This is a centre where recycling is collected, sorted, and stored before it is sent to a recycling plant. Residents can drop off their recyclable waste on weekday mornings, or the centre can arrange to pick the waste up. They also accept business waste. There is no charge for picking up the waste, the centre runs on the money it makes from recycling materials. It is subsidised by a foundation which aims to help the environment by increasing recycling rates across Guatemala.

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