BVRio’s Pedro Moura Costa explains how the 3R initiative, backed by Danone, Veolia, Nestlé and Tetra Pak, and launched at this week’s Responsible Business Summit Europe, will put a value on the environmental services provided by waste pickers in countries like Brazil, India and Indonesia
Cities around the world generate about 1.3 billion tons of solid waste per year, and this is expected to double over the next 20 years in lower-income countries. While most of this waste can be collected and kept out of the environment, low rates of plastic recycling contribute to the solid waste crisis.
Indeed, only 14% of global plastic packaging is currently recycled, while 32% of all plastic packaging leaks into ecosystems, where it may remain for hundreds of years. Annually, between 8m and 20m tons of plastic ends up in the oceans. It is becoming clear, across the globe, that the current economics of waste management do not adequately incentivise recycling.
Given the fragmented and heterogeneous range of plastics disposal legislation around the world, it is essential that any global initiative to reduce the impact of plastics is driven by companies.
Unfortunately, the bulk of recyclable waste ends up in landfills, rubbish dumps, and nature
Recognising these problems, a number of leading companies and NGOs have come together to establish the newly launched 3R Initiative (that stands for reduce, recover and recycle), the first ever such global scheme aimed at these objectives. The initiative is led by standard-setter Verra and my company, not-for-profit environmental market developer BVRio, in collaboration with leading companies Danone, Veolia, Nestlé and Tetra Pak, as well as Conservation International and environmental service providers.
The 3R Initiative provides a set of tools for companies to engage in the process of reducing their plastics footprints through a combination of internal and external measures.
Internally, the initiative is developing a standard to enable companies to quantify and report, in a consistent and comparable way, the impact of the various measures at their disposal to reduce plastic and packaging waste. These include, for instance, the reduction of packaging, increased use of recycled, recyclable or biodegradable materials, and the adoption of returnable packaging schemes.
The 3R corporate standard, associated with independent verification, will increase the credibility of such efforts and associated claims. The standard will be delivered through a multi-stakeholder process involving companies, NGOs, governments and extensive public consultations.
At the same time, the 3R Initiative recognises that internal measures may not be sufficient for companies to tackle all of their waste footprint. Once a product is sold, its end-of-life disposal is in the hands of consumers, creating a leakage of waste materials outside the direct control of companies. Unfortunately, the bulk of recyclable waste ends up in landfills, rubbish dumps, and nature.
This is indeed a waste. The fraction of recyclable material that makes it to landfills means a lost economic opportunity. Even worse, the fraction not directed to properly managed landfills makes its way into the environment, polluting fields, rivers, beaches and the ocean.
Through the scheme, activities that result in the recovery of plastic waste will receive credits that can be sold
Additional measures are needed to promote the appropriate post-consumption destination of products and/or to reduce the impact of disposal of waste material that ends up in the environment.
To assist companies in dealing with this challenge, the 3R Initiative is also developing the 3R project and crediting mechanism, which provides a financial incentive for the recovery and recycling of plastic and other packaging waste.
Through the scheme, activities that result in the recovery of plastic waste, avoiding their release to the environment, will receive credits that can be sold to businesses that need to reduce their residual plastic footprint. Activities that go one step further, and ensure that the waste recovered is actually recycled, will receive a different type of credit, to reflect their contribution to plastic circularity.
The approach adopted by the 3R Initiative was already tested and proved in the past. In early 2013, BVRio developed a system whereby companies could purchase waste recycling credits issued and sold by the waste pickers involved in waste collection, separation and recycling.
The system was used by companies to offset the waste of their packaging, involving more than a thousand independent waste pickers. Credits bought by companies funded the recovery of more than 1,600 tons of solid waste per year, generating over $100,000 in revenue for the waste pickers that took part.
For the waste pickers, the sale of credits provided an additional source of revenue increasing their average income by 30%. For companies, the use of credits provided an efficient and cost-effective solution for their waste-management needs.
The 3R Initiative aims at providing an integrated approach for corporates to move towards the current elusive target of plastics waste neutrality
The 3R crediting mechanism has the potential to contribute to greatly scale up this and other such schemes. In an initial phase, the 3R Initiative will test the standard in more than a dozen pilot projects across Asia, Africa and Latin America. By providing financial incentives for the recovery and recycling of waste – regardless of which country it takes place in – it will also enable the replication of positive and successful models around the world.
By promoting the combination of internal measures designed to reduce corporate waste footprints, and support for waste recovery and recycling outside their value chains, the 3R Initiative aims at providing an integrated approach for corporates to move towards the current elusive target of “plastics waste neutrality”.
Pedro Moura Costa is director of BVRio and co-founder of the 3R Initiative. BVRio is a non-profit organisation specialised in the development of market mechanisms to facilitate compliance with environmental laws and objectives.
3R Initiative recycling waste pickers waste management Tetra Pak Nestlé Danone packaging plastic