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Is Chile prepared to recycle?
Wednesday, February 21, 2024 - 15:42
Reciclaje Chile foto Ambipar

With the approval of the Extended Producer Responsibility and Single-Use Plastics laws, both of which begin this year, the country seeks to reduce the amount of garbage that reaches landfills. But success in execution will depend largely on an unregulated actor: citizens.

Despite its wide use, plastic has a bad reputation. And Chile is no exception.

The South American country has been organizing pilot programs and educational initiatives in different sectors and cities for more than a decade, with a view to a final goal: to become the country that generates the most garbage per inhabitant in Latin America - about 1.13 kg per day per inhabitant. , according to the Ministry of the Environment, and which is, at the same time, the least recycles its waste with a minimum of 4% - is transformed into a society where at least 30% of non-degradable waste is recovered, such as glass, paper, cardboard and especially plastics.

But, at the government level, it is recognized that there is still a lot of regulatory work to be done: “These are ambitious challenges in relation to reuse models, traceability of management systems and the design of sustainable packaging that guide us to continue working with the objective of move towards a circular economy for plastics,” said Tomás Saieg, head of the Circular Economy Office of the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) of Chile .

Strictly speaking, plastics are not the only non-degradable waste that worries Chilean regulators and experts.

The Law to Promote Recycling and Extended Producer Responsibility, or REP Law, seeks for the entire society to take charge of waste management, through the classification and valorization of products classified as priorities for the market, for their reintegration in the economy, under the logic of the circular economy and with clear and progressive goals for each of them.

“This means that there must be an ecosystem that involves different capacities and technologies, from logistics and transportation, through classification and pretreatment, to its actual recovery,” details Leonardo Curotto, Commercial Manager of Ambipar Environment.

The REP Law has established six priority products that are those classified as key to their recovery, starting with tires and packaging, whose collection and recovery goals have already begun to apply this year. Then come the stages of cells, batteries, electrical and electronic devices and used oils and lubricants.

In the specific case of containers and packaging, the responsibility of the REP Law falls on the producer who had to use a container to sell their product on the market.

“Thus, producers are responsible for organizing a Management System that allows these containers to be valued, in an environment of healthy and free competition, which ensures and accounts for their effective valuation at the rates established by law,” adds Curotto.

All this generates new actors and processes.

In the case of household containers and packaging, the producers are in charge of articulating the entire chain of actors that allow the recovery, classification and pretreatment of waste under the figure of a Management System, ensuring that the goals established by the normative.

In the case of non-domestic packaging, the industrial sector is much more advanced in management. These Management Systems carry out monitoring work to accredit the recovery and valuation of said containers and packaging, accounting for their effective valuation at the rates established by law.

Not only that. With a social purpose, the REP Law recognizes and protects the so-called grassroots recyclers, those people who collect reusable raw materials from street garbage, and forces them to formalize and professionalize.

“It gives them a mandatory management space, where capabilities like ours will be at the service of the base recyclers and the Management System, where they will be classified and pretreated so that they are subsequently valued by another actor in the chain, which “It demonstrates the spirit of the REP law is that of collaboration, as the main strategy to achieve the established goals,” says the Ambipar executive.

This law is not yet applicable since it needs a regulation. But on its own it sheds light on major changes in behavior that will be required of companies, municipalities and people.

Germán Codina, mayor of Puente Alto , one of the three largest municipalities in Chile, explained to AméricaEconomía that for many years his commune has had recycling points, called green points, to promote citizen habits.

“We are the commune in Chile that recycles the most (…) We know that the REP law is a great challenge and that is why we have been in different meetings trying to see how it is installed, how it is developed and, obviously, also the additional challenges that come with it. the law so that we can have better performance on the part of the institutions, but, above all, also accompany families in the development of habits that are extremely important for environmental care.”

On the other hand, the Single-Use Plastics Law regulates the delivery of disposable plastics and plastic bottles, with the aim of reducing waste generation, by limiting the delivery of these products in food outlets. It also contains measures to promote the reuse and certification of single-use plastics, while it regulates the production and disposal of disposable plastic bottles.

Among the relevant points established by the law, the restriction on the delivery of plastic utensils in restaurants and encouraging the reuse of containers through refills or fillings stands out. “Which promotes more sustainable habits, not only in the context of commerce, but also in the practices of the population,” says Nicolás Calderón, associate partner of Sustainability Services at the consulting firm EY.

This legislation joins similar laws in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and nations that make a living from tourism and nature, such as Costa Rica, Aruba, Jamaica, Belize, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago.


AméricaEconomía spoke with different companies that produce large quantities of byproducts or waste and that are in direct contact with consumers.

“The work we have done has been transversal and the first thing was the training period, participating in seminars, talks and collaborating with the Santiago Chamber of Commerce to understand innovation in this field. Structural changes were also made in the company, such as the creation of a committee dedicated to following regulatory advances and a much more robust sustainability area, which influences corporate decisions," Marcelo Rojas Panelo, director of Legal Affairs, explains to AméricaEconomía. Labor Relations and Corporate Affairs of Alsea South America, which includes Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia

Since the new law was published, all the holding's brands - Starbucks Coffee, Burger King, PF Chang's and Chili's - have adhered to a collective management system, Resimple, to meet the established collection goals, with a focus collaborative that goes beyond simply complying with regulations and becomes part of a broader sustainability and corporate responsibility strategy, the company recognizes.

In general, the firm recognizes that finding efficient solutions has sometimes represented a challenge that they prefer to see as an opportunity to anticipate changes and forge a truly sustainable business.

“At Alsea South America, the local experience motivates us to replicate these practices since, as a company, we consider that these changes go beyond legal compliance and are part of our mission,” he adds.

In the case of the local conglomerate Cencosud, which has malls and supermarkets, the publication of the law found the firm with years of experience in receiving packaging for subsequent recycling.

“We have implemented a series of initiatives, for example, automating our Packaging declarations through an internal platform; adhering at an early stage to the Container and Packaging Management System – RESIMPLE – as a founding partner, and by joining as part of the Eco-Labeling Clean Production Agreement led by Sofofa, to which we add a series of internal trainings on the subject” details Raúl Troncoso, deputy manager of ESG and Sustainability at Cencosud.

The executive adds that in their comprehensive waste management they promote prevention, reduction, reuse and recycling, to reduce final disposal in landfills.

“We promote, for example, the reduction of the use of raw materials in our packaging, and we promote eco-design for our own brands. Our vision is to address the environmental issue in a holistic manner, therefore, managing opportunities for improvement in containers and packaging has a positive impact on the environmental aspects that we work on as a company: energy, water and greenhouse gases,” he lists.

In general, the destination of packaging waste at an industrial level is diverse.

In the case of cardboard containers and boxes, there is a significant percentage, since more than 80% are currently valued. However, in the case of plastic and metal, the level of recycling is low, therefore, these waste end up where they should not, in circumstances where they are completely recyclable products and should go to recycling plants. And the same goes for metal.

Therefore, “the work of the Management System and what this law seeks is precisely to increase the degrees of separation and improve the internal management of companies so that most of the waste generated as a consequence of their productive activities goes to valorization, that is, recycling,” says Pedro Álamos, General Manager of ProREP , an exclusive Management System for Non-Domiciliary Containers and Packaging,

Thus, the main challenge that the REP law imposes for companies is twofold. “The first is that the role of container and packaging producer entails obligations and, therefore, they must comply with them through a Management System with the recovery goals for this recycling.

On the other hand, as waste generators at the company level they also have obligations in their role as industrial consumers. This means that they have to make profound changes in waste management, so that those that are generated as part of their production and their activity in the plants are valued by themselves or through an authorized manager."

For Álamos, this presents a double and relevant challenge that will transform the waste management sector, introducing circularity to the industrial world.

ProREP, as a Management System, has contemplated the provision of incentives to improve the separation of packaging and boost the demand for recycled material.

To illustrate, he mentions the case of Germany, where more than 90% of all glass and 58% of all steel comes from recycled raw materials. “That means we have a lot to move forward and change our way of doing things,” he adds.

The firm Ambipar Enrivonment, meanwhile, made an investment of US$ 23 million in a modern plant for the treatment and recovery of household waste, unlike ProRep.

When it comes into operation next March, it will be the largest and most efficient facility of this type in Chile, with a capacity to process 60 thousand tons per year and a recovery rate of more than 90%, becoming a tool that will help the industry comply with the goals established in the REP Law.

In addition to classifying and generating pure streams of material from waste, GIRI will also take care of the fractions that are not recyclable and the destruction of waste and obsolete inventories.

“Together with this investment, we have launched a plan to expand our operational capacity with two plants in the regions of Tarapacá [to the north] and Los Lagos [to the south] and that will mean investments of US$ 3 and US$ 4 million respectively. , providing 10 thousand tons of annual capacity each,” says Leonardo Curotto, Commercial Manager of Ambipar Environment.

The firm's incursion is totally private, without aid from the State, since they are confident that the regulations that Chile has contain mandatory goals that show a promising future for this industry.


Despite the quotas estimated by law, it will be the citizens, through their behavior regarding garbage, who will have a high responsibility for the recycling and revaluation of waste to be successful.

“The consumer has a key role since we are the ones who have to deliver the material in good conditions. That is, home users are responsible for segregating waste, delivering it to collection points, which materialize in Clean Points or home collection, in accordance with the suggestions provided by the authority and depending on the type of product." , adds Curotto.

To achieve the goals, this businessman considers that the great challenge for producers is to encourage their clients and consumers to do things well, to improve their waste rates that are destined for recycling.

Despite this, not all unions are so convinced.

In January, the president of the Santiago Chamber of Commerce (CCS), María Teresa Vial, expressed her objections to the single-use plastic law in the Chilean Senate, since it does not reflect the diverse reality of the different types of establishments that impact, those that have different sizes and realities.

“It is necessary to balance the impact of this regulation on entrepreneurs who will no longer have incentives to create materials that are more innovative and environmentally friendly, on small and medium-sized merchants who will not be able to financially sustain this change and avoid overcharging. water consumption that will occur and that is not compatible with the water crisis scenario that still exists in the country,” Vial emphasized.

In this regard , Enrique Rosselot, coordinator of the Southern Division of the sustainability consultancy Gestión Social , agrees that this prohibition does not consider the possibility of generating recycling or composting of said materials, their life cycle, nor does it take into account the use of other resources. natural.

Even so, the law seems positive to him, to reduce waste. “From this law, innovations have been generated such as Algramo, which has refill centers for cleaning products such as chlorine, dishwasher, detergent, among others that are only found in some supermarkets in the metropolitan region,” he details.

And in general, he sees the country's transition towards a circular economy as positive thanks to these laws.

“Companies are encouraged to design more durable, recyclable and easy-to-manage products at the end of their useful life (…) and producers now have the obligation to establish collection and recycling systems, which has contributed to the recovery of materials.” “valuable waste”.

Regarding the environmental education and public awareness required, Rosselot believes it has contributed to a cultural change in the way Chileans approach waste and sustainability that has not been without challenges.

“From educating the different communities, support in the development of infrastructure, working with suppliers and other members of the value chain, decentralization and even achieving a true sociocultural change in the matter of what the correct process should be. recycling and obtaining these materials,” he says.

And although it has been described as very ambitious, in the opinion of Nicolás Calderón of EY, it also marks a very important milestone in the care and protection of the environment.

“The adoption of the law implies a profound transformation in all stages of marketing, consumption and disposal of products. This change will be gradual, as it requires the industry to begin using material products that comply with this new legislation, assuming an active role in the circular economy.

Regarding its implementation, it is also realistic regarding the citizen response.

“The difficulty would arise in changes in consumer habits, given that it involves educating about more sustainable alternatives to ensure that the expectations of the regulations are met,” he concludes.



Gwendolyn Ledger