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Diciembre de 2021 Página 1 de 3

Recycling in Mexico, an industry with potential

By Verónica Alcántara, Mexico Correspondent

With a plastic waste recovery rate of around 30%, Mexico is the leader in this industry in the Americas, surpassing even its trading partners the United States and Canada.

Mexico is a worldwide success story in PET recycling with a rate of 56% of all PET plastic consumed in the country, only behind the European Union, which has a 57% rate in the recovery and recycling of this material.

This is the result of the creation of an entire infrastructure around this material, which has been built for almost two decades. It began with the creation of Ecoce in 2002, a non-profit environmental civil association sponsored by the food industry, beverages, and consumer products in the country for the proper management of plastic waste produced by these sectors.

Today, the collection and recycling of PET generates more than 2,000 direct jobs and about 35,000 indirect jobs, according to the Mexican Coca-Cola Industry (IMCC), which has two plants in Mexico.

PetStar is one of them and is considered the largest food-grade PET recycling plant in the world. For this company, Mexico represents the most advanced business unit in the world, achieving that 98% of its packaging are recyclable and recycled.

Radiography of the sector

There is currently the potential to replicate this success with other plastic waste in the country, since today the market value is only 20 billion Mexican pesos a year, according to the National Association of Plastics Industries (Anipac).

In the "First Quantitative Study of the Plastics Recycling Industry in Mexico", presented by Anipac last May, it became clear that even with the existing limitations, 1.9 million tons per year have been recycled, which means a recycling rate of 30% of the plastics consumed in the country, three times higher than that of the United States and Canada.

The study also identified that there are at least 4,300 companies of all sizes in the country that are dedicated to any of the processes related to plastic recycling. Most of these are concentrated in the states that generate 70% of the waste: Ciudad de México, Estado de México, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Guanajuato, and Baja California.

On the other hand, according to Carlos Saldate, Anipac's Recyclers Section vice-president, 64% of the companies participating in the study are micro and small, which mainly carry out collection, grinding and densifying activities.

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"The technological requirements in collection, grinding and densifying are of low technological impact, therefore they are of low magnitude in terms of capital assets, so they are not costly, that is why we see that 64% of micro and small companies are in these three operations", explains the specialist.

A total of 32% of the medium and large companies focus on higher value processes such as washing and pelletizing, which require much more advanced machinery, as the quality of the final product depends on this. In fact, 22% of the companies analyzed in the study export recycled material, which implies high quality.

As for the most recycled plastics, in Mexico as in the world, the main one is polyethylene (PE) with 51.2%, followed by PET with 22.1%, and polypropylene (PP) with 18.2%, which together represent 91% of the plastics recycled in the country. This is followed by PVC (2.1%), polystyrene or EPS (1.8%) and the rest (4.6%).

Recycling in Mexico, says Carlos Saldate, has been a way of life for many generations, so there is no doubt that investment in infrastructure and technology will increase to boost this sector, which has a lot of potential to grow.

"We talk about recycling rates of around 65 to 70% in other countries and I think that is the goal to follow, but this has to be a joint work of society, government and companies", he notes.

Growth Challenges

In Mexico, the separation of urban solid waste uses a large amount of labor, as is usually the case in developing countries where the sorting of this waste is an economic activity, for example, for scavengers and small businesses that do not require large investments in technology.

More than 44 million tons of waste are generated annually in Mexico, and this figure could reach 65 million tons by 2030, so that waste sorting currently employs around 35,000 people, according to the article "Viable Disposal of Post-Consumer Polymers in Mexico: A Review", published by Juvenal Rodríguez-Reséndiz and other authors in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science last September.

The authors indicate that for obtaining high quality end products through mechanical recycling, the key is separation, washing and waste preparation; however, most of the companies engaged in these activities in the country do not have state-of-the-art technology for sorting and separation, and few companies are still engaged in washing.

Palabras relacionadas:
recycled materials, recycling industry in Mexico, plastic waste recovery, circular economy, recycling industry, recycling industry growth, quality recycled material, recycling of plastics

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