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THE ROLE OF THE INFORMAL RECYCLING SECTOR ON CLOSING THE LOOPS TO SUSTAINABLE CITIES

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - IRS-CESC (THE ROLE OF THE INFORMAL RECYCLING SECTOR ON CLOSING THE LOOPS TO SUSTAINABLE CITIES)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2019-11-30

As a result of a linear economic model based on infinite growth, waste has become a major global environmental problem. Reducing waste generation and diverting as much waste as possible from landfills and incineration, increasing reuse and recycling are strategies for organizing integrated sustainable solid waste management (ISWM) and support Circular Economy (CE) strategies worldwide.
In developing countries, where ISWM is hardly implemented, packaging recycling is being carried out by waste pickers (WP) who have created a social technology for the management and recycling of urban waste based on their practical knowledge, organized in a Solidarity Economy framework. Their action increases the amount of waste recovered and reduces the costs, contributing to ISWM and transforming waste into income and jobs, and social inclusion for millions of people.
The research aimed to find out how these informal operators should be invited to work with, not against, WM systems to strengthen CE, making cities sustainable and inclusive. The Brazilian experience of Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging waste (BR P-EPR), implemented with WP playing a central role, was investigated using the European experience (EU P-EPR), the world's first and most consolidated experience as a reference. Qualitative and quantitative methods were combined to collect data from different sources for discussing how the two models could learn from each other and the main constraints for applying them in different countries in order to suggest an inclusive approach for the EPR scheme. That could support ISWM implementation in low and middle medium-income countries (LMMIC), in addition to offer solutions to the concerns in dealing with plastic waste and in strengthening CE worldwide.
"Started in January 2019, firstly the Project was submitted to and approved by the Research Ethics Committee of LUBS (reference LTLUBS-255). The first third of the research schedule was also a time to participate in several training courses and workshops offered by OD&PL and Priestley International Center for Climate at UoL for supporting the grantee's (JR) long-term career goal of developing the ability to act as an independent researcher in the CE field at the international level.
Research and field studies were also carried out to capture information about the EU P-EPR to gather what was known about the schemes, origins, context and main recommendations for the practice; main results, and what was uncertainty around findings. Data were collected from the main packaging Producers Responsibility Operators, policymakers and waste managers, through participatory observation at professional conferences and study visits such as those organized by EXPRA - EU EPR Alliance in Brussels, ISWA - International Solid Waste Association in Austria and the Houses of Parliament in London. Participatory observation activities were carried out also in WP settlements, scrap yards, and dumps in Serbia and Northern Macedonia to find out how the IRS operates in EU countries. Meetings with technicians and public managers in these countries were organized to discuss the research hypothesis on the possibilities of disseminating the inclusive P-EPR model.
The second third of the project was a time to discuss initial research results.An “EPR Inclusive Policy Briefing” was shared as a collaboration for four different initiatives that could benefit from the research findings. The first, the ""Inclusive EPR"" working group, organized by WIEGO(https://www.wiego.org/) GAIA - Global Alliance for Alternative Incinerators (https://www.no-burn.org/) and other international NGOs to discuss recommendations for an ""inclusive model"" for EPR Initiatives around the world. It aimed primarily at providing tools for WP and civil society and influencing policymakers to seek solutions to problems caused by packaging waste and FMCG producers' initiatives and responsibility. The research also contributed to Tearfund's report (https://www.tearfund.org/) ""Private sector partnerships with the informal waste sector: developing good practice guidelines and a framework for action"". The results were also discussed with the Fair Plastic Alliance, which seeks a partnership to develop inclusive approaches to recycling plastics in the Global South and with the UK's WaterAid network.
A Portuguese version of the policy briefing is being used by the Brazilian WP to negotiate with the government and packaging producers in Brazil about their formal participation in the P-EPR schemes that are being reformulated. In December 2019, the document was discussed, in Belo Horizonte / Brazil, in a workshop with the participation of about 30 people, leaders of the Brazilian WP, public managers, academics and other members of ORIS - Observatory for Inclusive Recycling, a Brazilian network built around selective collection and solidarity recycling.
Research results were presented at the Innovative Recycling Session at ISWA Congress, held in Bilbao in October 2019. Results papers were approved to be presented in 3 other different 2020 conferences – in India, Italy, and Brazil, but they don´t due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also prevented any possibility of disseminating the results in the press and also the discussion planned to take place at a round table on the CE at Leeds Digital Festival.
The research results are publicised on the Leeds University Business School blog (https://business.leeds.ac.uk/dir-record/research - blog / 1634 / including-recycling-green-jobs-to-support-a-circular-economy-in-sustainable-cities) and in EURAXESS Brazil and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Newsletter (https://bit.ly/QNL12020).Final results are described on paper “Circular Economy for packaging: improving Extended Producer Responsibility with inclusive recycling” based which is being processed under assigned number RECYCL-D-20-01571 for publication at the journal “Resources, Conservation and Recycling”.
The research data is openly accessible on https://doi.org/105518/832. The research results and data can be useful for those interested in understanding how waste pickers operate in emerging countries and what contribution they make to waste management and EPR schemes for packaging. The data will also be useful for policymakers who seek improvements in waste management and in recovering resources from waste."
The project provided an interdisciplinary scientific assessment for the inclusive P-EPR scheme, which proved to be able to support the creation of green jobs and CE aims, collaborating to fill an important gap in policies and practices related to inclusive integrated sustainable waste management.
How to include the IRS in P-EPR schemes around the world proved to be interesting for different actors, considering the benefits they could bring to waste recycling and social inclusion.
Findings favours the objectives of inclusion of the WP in Brazil and other LMMIC and are an innovative contribution to the implementation of a Green Economy and reduction of environmental risks and ecological scarcity, in order to achieve the objectives of the SDGs for 2030.