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The Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme (SRI) contributes to SDG 1 by strengthening job opportunities in the recycling industry and helping former informal workers gain a formal income to provide for their families as well as by fostering young entrepreneurs. It does so by working together with various partners from the private as well as from the public sector in the implementing countries. A specific example of SRIs contribution to SDG 1 is the establishment of a youth-incubator project in Egypt.
The project called E-Khorda attracted young entrepreneurs in the field of recycling to submit their business plans of which the most promising were selected and rewarded with investments into their companies. Another example is the collaboration with the national cleaner production center in Colombia which led to the creation of a collective take-back system based on extended producer responsibility called Ecocomputo, which covers over 50% of the producers and importers of computers. In the course, 500 new direct jobs in the recycling industry among side investment flows of over two million dollars were generated.
Finally, SRI realized the Guidance Principles for the Sustainable Management of Secondary Metals, an international workshop agreement under the regulation of the international organization for standardization (ISO IWA 19: 2017), to, amongst others, improve the livelihoods of employees in the recycling sector. The agreement enables a more sustainable and inclusive approach to recycling, and improves practices of economic operators, ensures a credible traceability of recovered metals and promotes the formalization of economic operators involved in subsistence activities and unofficial business activities. The principles are seen as a major step towards achieving more social equity, environmental justice and optimal recovery in metal recycling worldwide.
To contribute to the SDG 3, the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme (SRI) implements healthy and safe, yet efficient and sustainable recycling techniques which can be applied by working men and women in the informal sector. It does so by raising awareness, providing trainings for future instructors and auditors as well as technical assistance on how to move from worst to good practices. This is especially relevant in developing countries, where 90% of recycling activities are undertaken by the informal sector and in many cases unsustainable recycling techniques are applied. Worst-practices, e.g., to recover secondary metals from end-of-life tyres (ELTs), waste electronic cables or fridges through open burning, account for severe negative impacts on human health. To illustrate this, the unsafe disassembly of a discarded refrigerator can emit about 500 kg of CO2 impacting on climate change. To learn more on the negative impacts of worst practices, consult the analysis "Life Cycle Assessments of Selected Worst Practices in Secondary Metals Recovery and Recommendations to Move Towards Good Practices" conducted by SRI.
SRI offers Massive Open Online Courses or “train-the-trainers & auditors”-workshops on ISO international workshop agreement (IWA) 19: 2017, a document compiled by SRI. The first internal auditors training was held in Honduras, providing training for Latin American representatives from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Honduras. The ISO IWA 19: 2017 describes Guidance Principles for the Sustainable Management of Secondary Metals which include criteria that help improve the lives of workers in the recycling sector such as:
After the above described workshops, the auditors will implement the standards of the Guidance Principles for the Sustainable Management of Secondary Metals in their respective countries. Hence, these trainings prove to be a very effective way of reaching a large amount of people and improve their livelihoods by shifting from worst- to good practices.
While collecting, reducing, reusing, and recycling some materials is technologically and economically feasible, others, like plastics, present a bigger challenge. Low oil prices, thousands of applications of plastics, sorting and recycling challenges, and poor waste management infrastructure have resulted in millions of tonnes of plastics disposed on rivers and lakes coasts flooding into the ocean annually. Therefore, managing waste contributes to making water less polluted. In the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme focus country India, up to 60% of the disposed plastic waste is recycled, which is a much higher recycling rate than common in European countries. This high recycling rate is largely due to the presence of the informal sector which consists of a multitude of small businesses and self-employed persons with no or little legal recognition and social protection. More information on the topic can be found here. By providing relatively simple techniques applicable by informal workers and working towards a certificate for sustainably recycled plastics in India, SRI contributes to both keeping the recycling rate in India high, as well the reduction of waste, which would eventually end up in water bodies, and thus to the SDG 6.
Instead of formal actors, in developing countries it is often informal actors that have successfully built businesses on the collection, trade and recycling of plastic waste.
This informal sector consists of small businesses and self-employed persons with little or no legal recognition and low capital investments. Its workers are often wrongly considered to be poorly skilled and to possess little technological know-how. Yet, the informal recycling sector as a whole contributes massively to a more circular plastic economy. Furthermore, this sector is one of the most dynamic and adaptive, catering to ever- changing demands in plastic products. The informal plastic recycling sector contributes to sustainable economic growth, by supporting numerous livelihoods and creating value out of waste, while having a positive impact on the environment. According to estimations, the informal sector as a whole reaches an annual turnover of $1 billion, and it is set to grow even more with rising waste volumes on the supply side and increasing purchasing power of consumers on the demand side. As in other segments of the informal economy, shortcomings related to labor rights and occupational safety are widespread in the informal plastic recycling sector. Better practices are needed to ensure the sustainability of the whole value chain. To contribute to the social and economic sustainability, the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme helped to establish the GreenCo rating system for e-waste and plastics specifically in India as well as it established the ISO IWA 19:2017 on the sustainable recycling of secondary metals. To contribute to the environmental sustainability SRI works towards the reduction of negative environmental impacts such as soil, water and air pollution by so called worst practices in the recycling business by replacing them with alternative good practices and alternative business models.
To foster industry, innovation and infrastructure, the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme implements “good practices” instead of the existing “worst practices”. These practices are simple, yet effective and sustainable techniques and strategies applicable by the informal sector. Some of the worst practices identified by SRI, for which SRI introduced good practices, concern the following activities:
A detailed report on those activities and their respective good practice alternatives can be found here. Furthermore, the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme contributes to the SDG 9 by encouraging the establishment of new recycling plants as well as the auditing of existing ones. Through this, safe and environmentally sound job opportunities are created. The improvement of the current conditions as well as the auditing in the recycling plants, the strengthening of the recycling sector and introduction of innovative practices to the sector is done through i) the various standards established by SRI, e.g. the ISO IWA 19: 2017 as well as the Green Co rating system and ii) through the various trainings for owners, employees and future auditors, including massive open online courses as well as trainings on the job.
In developing countries, waste poses a problem to cities, communities and their inhabitants as well as the environment. This is as waste disposal and recycling systems are not or not sufficiently existing and waste disposals and recycling sites can often be found in urban centers. In the case of the Sustainable Reycling Industries Programme focus country Ghana, such a scrapyard called Agbogbloshie, can be found in the center of Accra, the capital of Ghana. An analysis conducted by the SRI programme shows that the unsustainable recycling techniques on these scrapyards do not only negatively affect the environment and the people working on the scrapyards, but have negative impacts on the environment and the health of people in the surroundings, e.g. through the distribution of poisoning pollutants through water and air.
To avoid such negative impacts for cities and communities SRI works together (see SDG 17) with all actors along the value chains and implements standards and good practices. It furthermore supports the establishment of policies for the management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). One example of the successful implementation is the SRI supported first e-waste policy in Latin America, introduced in Colombia, on which the practical guide for designing WEEE management policies in developing countries is based on. Another success story poses the example of Ghana, which is the first African country to officially launch guidelines for environmentally sound e-waste management.
In the last eight years, the amount of globally produced e-waste rose to around 50 million tons per year, which makes e-waste the fastest growing waste stream in the world. This development is clearly accountable to a non-sustainable mentality of fast disposal and replacement.
This is why the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme works towards a circular economy. It does so by fostering recycling industries and thus reducing waste. The programme does not see waste as an end of life disposal but much more as a resource for development – thus the slogan “turning waste into resources for development”. An example of the potential of Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling is that while in one tone of excavated material from a goldmine 9 grams of gold are found. Out of one tone of old mobile phones on the other hand, 281 grams of gold can be retrieved. It therefore makes sense to not only dispose WEEE and then buy new electrical and electronic equipment but rather recycle it and thus contribute to both, a more sustainable consumption and production. SRIs specific contributions towards SDG 12 are therefore the various standards for sustainable recycling, the construction and auditing of recycling plants and the establishment of practical guide for designing WEEE management policies in developing countries.
Recycling of metals produces 5 times less CO 2 emissions than producing metals from primary ore. By promoting sustainable and inclusive recycling through standards, such as the ISO IWA 19:2017, training and technical assistance, SRI contributes to combat climate change.
To do so the climate change impact has to be assessed first, which is done with the help of ecoinvent, respectively the conducted Life Cycle Assessments. The exact quantification of environmental impacts and climate change potential helps to facilitate the shift from worst to good practices, i.e. to more environmental sound recycling systems. SRI believes that what cannot be quantified, cannot be managed, so, jointly with ecoinvent, estimations of CO 2 emissions from recycling practices including Worst Practices undertaken in regions with poor legislations enforcement and inexistent awareness raising. The SRI publication on «Life Cycle Assessments of Selected Worst Practices in Secondary Metals Recovery and Recommendations to Move Towards Good Practices», shows for example that the manual dismantling of a typical refrigerator accounts for about 0.3 kg of released refrigerants to the atmosphere, which is equivalent to 661 kg CO2 or a 2160 km journey in a diesel car.
To improve the life below water, the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme focuses on the environmental pillar of sustainability by contributing to the SDGs 3 and 6.
It does so through the introduction of standards such as safety standards in recycling plants or the standards for the recycling process itself and the work towards a more environmentally sound recycling industry by transforming worst to good practices. By doing so, severe environmental impacts on fresh and marine water bodies, as shown in an analysis conducted by SRI, which e.g. quantifies the negative impacts due to the open burning of Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment to the soil, air and finally water, as well as the pollution of water bodies and ecosystems through plastics can be reduced. More information of the impact of plastic pollution on water bodies in the SRI focus country India can be found here.
To improve the life on land, the Sustainable Recycling Industries Porgramme tackles all three pillars of sustainability, i.e. social, economic and environmental sustainability by contributing to the SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 11, 12 and 13.
SRI does so by fostering economic factors such as the establishment of job opportunities in the recycling industry, social factors as it developed standards which guarantee a better and healthier working environment for the employees in the recycling industry and by fostering environmental factors as the implemented standards lead to a transformation from worst to good practices and thus reduce negative impacts such as soil, water and air pollution. This is done by working with all actors along the recycling value chain, be it governmental or non-governmental actors.
Combined, these actions improve the livelihoods of actors in or affected by the recycling industry.
A crucial aspect of the success of the Sustainable Recycling Industries Programme are the partnerships both of the Programme with various actors, as well as within the programme itself. In the programme ecoinvent, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and the World Resources Forum work together with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) to achieve the programmes goals.
To enable an integrative and inclusive approach while at the same time achieving a maximum impact, the SRI programme partners with both governmental and non-governmental, such as NGOs or industry representatns, actors along the value chains in the respective focus countries.
A recent example of the benefits gained through the many partnerships of SRI is the GreenCo rating system for E-waste recyclers in the SRI focus country India. India currently produces roughly 2.5 million tons or 5% of the global e-waste every year. With growth rates of almost 30%, Indian e-waste quantities double every 2.5-3 years. Channelizing these waste streams and setting up adequate treatment infrastructure is a national priority, which both policy makers and industry have been keen to tackle. The GreenCo rating for E-Waste Recyclers was developed by the CII – Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre and supported by the SRI-project. Sofies India contributed key technical expertise. The rating system was developed through a one-year participatory process involving policy-makers, civil society organizations, scientists and various industry sectors such as compliance providers, recyclers and collectors.