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Emerging countries: will better waste recycling help fight global warming ?


Improving waste recycling occupies a special place among operational methods to combat global warming and greenhouse gasses. Significant gains are expected in emerging countries where recycling of small-scale household waste is often poorly organised, as a recent German study demonstrates. In tandem with the development of collection systems and organized recycling, local start-ups and NGOs are inventing new and promising models.

Although OECD countries still have work to do when it comes to increasing their household waste recycling rates and thus reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, this is also true for developing or newly industrialized countries. This was the takeaway from a study led by the Institute of Applied Ecology and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), on behalf of the Federal German Agency for the Environment (UBA). Its authors were especially interested in India and Egypt where a majority of waste ends up in landfills cannot address leaks or gas pollution. In India, reportedly 80% of the 234 million metric tons of waste will go to landfills, generating some 55 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.
To reduce waste-related greenhouse gas emissions, the United Nations Environment Programme has identified 3 approaches : (1) encourage recycling to reduce reliance on raw materials; (2) increase energy recovery from waste, and (3) combat carbon dioxide and methane emissions from landfills where the waste decomposes. Better organisation together with incineration of residual wasted in efficient facilities would save 25 million tonnes of CO2 annually. This is why an organised processing system must be rapidly implemented in these countries.The authors caution, however, that the large number of existing unofficial collection and recycling facilities should not be excluded as they play a major economic and social role for a significant portion of the population.

Credits: Wecyclers

At the local level, many initiatives are already underway on this issue. In Lagos (Nigeria) for example, Wecyclers, a start-up created in 2012 by a social entrepreneur, launched a veritable recycling ecosystem. Each day, some twenty tricycles ridden by paid Wecyclers criss-cross the streets of the Africa’s most populated city (21 million inhabitants) to collect several hundred kilos of household waste. Inhabitants are encouraged to give their waste to theWecyclers based on a points system.Since its launch, some 600 tonnes have been collected and resold to processing plants. In Zambia, another local start-up named Tapera transforms used household and restaurant cooking oils into fuel for cars or soap. Its reprocessing machines treat an average of 3,000 litres of fuel each month.

Still in Africa, the NGO AMOR created by local environmentalists and international recycling specialists is making its own contribution to the rapid growth of waste treatment in Mozambique. With support from the SUEZ environnement Initiatives fund, the association transformed old shipping containers into recycling centres dubbed “Eco-points.”They function as purchasing and collection centres of recyclable waste sold or deposited by individuals, stores and companies. Mobile collectors on collection tricycles pick up waste from each eco-point. Waste is then packaged and resold to Mozambique’s recycling industry. This system also has a social dimension: most Eco-Points are managed by HIV-positive women assisted by rag pickers turned mobile collectors, who can now make a regular income. From its beginnings in the Maputo region, the concept has since spread throughout the rest of the country.