In order to take advantage of resources and optimize recycling worldwide, initiatives such as the circular economy have emerged, which seeks to reuse waste materials in order to reduce the extraction of new resources.
For this reason, the countries that make up the Pacific Alliance met in Medellín in the Meeting of the Economy of the Pacific Alliance to agree on the roadmap that will be carried out regarding the Circular Economy to improve waste management in the coming years.
Mario Schembri, engineer and waste management expert, was in Colombia to participate in the meeting. The specialist spoke with EL TIEMPO about the actions that Colombia must implement to have a transition towards the circular economy and how to make this a successful model in the country and in the world.
What benefits does the circular economy generate for a country in economic, social and environmental terms? Are there any disadvantages?
The circular economy mainly facilitates the preservation of a country’s own natural resources for future generations and also improves the security of the supply of materials, which makes it less dependent on other countries. Similarly, the circular economy also improves social status by creating jobs, often at a level of society where it is most needed. As for the disadvantages, I believe that not adopting the circular economy would be the disadvantage.
In your experience, what policies or actions do you consider Colombia should implement so that the packaging and packaging industries in Colombia meet the criteria for recycling, reuse and reduction?
The preservation of waste materials is essential in the circular economy. The key challenges to realize the circular economy are costs, technology and public participation.
The best model we see today, and one that has been in effect for many years in various parts of the world, is what we call Extended Producer Responsibility (REP). In this approach, the producers, in addition to being responsible for the design, manufacture and distribution of the product, also They are responsible for collecting used products from consumers and recycling them. This approach has allowed Europe to recover from the waste of millions of tons of packaging materials every year.
What business models should the different packaging companies follow to accelerate their transition to the circular economy?
To successfully recover packaging and packaging waste, the producer’s extended responsibility business model It must be applied to all companies involved in the sale of packaged products and not only to those companies that provide the package or product container.
In the producer’s extended responsibility business systems, in fact, we see that it is the owners of the brand and the fillers that are responsible and not the packaging companies. The REP must be applied throughout the supply chain, otherwise it would fail.
In addition to its application in packaging companies, other REP success stories are seen, such as consumer electronics, appliances, tires, clothing and others. There are other very good examples that Colombia can adapt according to cultural, economic, environmental and social specificities and develop its own REP solution.
And how to make this model work successfully?
What could be done is that all companies use some type of packaging in their products, which are basically all, can gather and create an association, in which companies depending on their size (large, medium or small) pay a value per ton of your waste and with that money you can finance the collection system of these packages nationwide.
Tell me about the success stories of circular economy in the world. Why do they succeed? Why were there others that didn’t have it?
The circular economy today is considered as a destination that must be reached step by step, however, the REP has allowed many countries to arrive much faster.
The key to its success is a good policy, one that clearly defines the responsibilities of the different actors, such as those of government authorities, consumers, waste management companies and not just the responsibilities of producers. The correct implementation of the policy, as well as transparency in the presentation of financial and recycling data, are essential ingredients to achieve a successful circular economy. Any deficit in any of the above points would lead to a certain failure.
Is there a worldwide projection of how long it will take all countries to join the circular economy policies?
Last year, the European Union set itself the ambitious goal of establishing a circular economy by 2030. Countries outside the Union have taken note and are setting similar goals, as I understand what the Pacific Alliance countries are doing, including Colombia.
What aspects should a country consider when it begins its transition to the circular economy?
A country must be fully aware of the benefits it seeks to obtain when making the change to the circular economy. While it sounds simple, the right decisions are based on good and reliable information. Often, data is missing or, if they exist, may be incorrect or obsolete. So, I believe that an open and honest discussion between the key actors, which are industry, government and the public, is important. Once the dynamics are understood and acceptance between the different actors is achieved, the following steps will be presented.
DANIELA GALLO HIDALGO