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Driving Circularity in
Argentina

Overview

Few municipal waste management systems in Argentina include any form of separated recyclables collection leading to extremely low recycling rates and material recovery.

Our vision is to build recycling into existing waste collection systems by designing services that fit within municipal budgets and create value for local communities. We started with a pilot in Barrio Mugica, an informal community of ~40,000 residents in Buenos Aires in 2019, and have now expanded to the city of Olavarria, with coverage on track to reach the full population of 120,000 people by 2022. Our next stop: transforming waste management systems of clusters of cities at once, within Argentina and across Latin America. In addition, we are working with corporate players on the demand side to create traceability and transparency, improve logistics, and build local markets to reliably absorb the supply of recycled materials on an ongoing basis at a fair price. In combination, these efforts will help Argentina to build a thriving recycling industry contributing to its transition to a circular economy.

Rethinking Recycling - Argentina

Initiatives

The Challenge

Across Latin America, informal waste pickers have organized for decades to form cooperative labor groups, bring attention to the value of recycling, and secure access rights to waste and government support. Forward-looking cities, innovative social enterprises, and nonprofits have also made important strides in building the circular economy, creating new livelihoods in working with waste. Despite these advances, few municipal waste management systems in Argentina include any form of separated recyclables collection. As a result recycling rates in Latin America remain frustratingly low, especially for materials like flexible plastics and organic waste – in Argentina, only an estimated 8% of all recyclable materials are being recycled.

Meanwhile, landfills are reaching capacity and illegal dumping practices continue to threaten public health. The opportunity ahead: building on the region’s success in social inclusion while embedding recycling into municipal waste programs, to achieve holistic waste solutions at scale.

Proof-of-Concept: ATR Barrio 31

In Barrio Mugica (formerly Barrio 31), a ~40,000-resident informal community in the center of Buenos Aires, we partnered with the city and the 13 active labor cooperatives to establish recycling and composting services.

Residents of the Barrio named the program A Todo Reciclaje (ATR), or “Recycling for All,” playing off the title of a local popular song. Through a collaborative process with the community and the labor cooperatives, we developed effective, affordable methods to support residents in building new recycling habits, including a “try recycling, get your kit” activation initiative, education sessions at their doorstep, and innovative labeled hooks on buildings for hanging sorted waste out of reach of stray dogs. Local shops receive equipment suited to their retail operations and additional support as influencers in the community. Cooperative workers receive training not just in waste management operations, but also professional skills such as public speaking, creative problem solving, and interpreting data.

The ATR recycling facility is unique in Argentina in that it is operated jointly by multiple labor cooperatives, with the sale of recyclables providing supplementary income to workers. Barrio Mugica residents and shops now receive reliable recycling and waste management service, including the first residential organics collection service anywhere in the City of Buenos Aires. After two years, Barrio Mugica has the highest recycling rates in the city.

ATR has drawn accolades as a best-practice example for inclusive urban transformation, and remains a showcase of our work. Residents enjoy cleaner streets, and cooperative members feel empowered by the social, environmental, and financial impacts of their work. By increasingly taking ownership of the program, these waste workers are becoming the real agents of change committed to the continued growth of this program.

Scale-up Initiative: GIRO Olavarría

Building on our experience in Barrio Mugica, we’re taking our work from a community-level to a city-level program in Olavarría, a mid-sized industrial city in Argentina. Called GIRO, for “Gestión Integral de Residuos de Olavarría” (Integrated Waste Management of Olavarría), the program aims to create a replicable, economically sustainable and inclusive model for municipal waste management in Argentina.

When we arrived, Olavarría had a formal recycling rate of less than 1%. Our work, in partnership with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and Amcor, aims to achieve recycling rates comparable to leading cities globally, through a combination of community and worker engagement, collection service changes, infrastructure setup, and business model innovation. Together with the City of Olavarria, we’re co-developing a model for transforming recycling and composting to engage all 120,000+ residents, as well as the local recycling cooperative and industry partners in the regional circular economy.

Learn More about GIRO

Our Impact

In Barrio Mugica (formerly Barrio 31), a ~40,000-resident informal community in the center of Buenos Aires, we partner with city staff as well as with the 13 labor cooperatives active in the community, to provide waste and recycling collection services.

150k
Number of people we are on track to reach with recycling and waste management services by 2022, most of whom had no access to these services before
~350
Waste workers hired, trained with access to healthcare and fair compensation; 80% of whom are women
30-40%
Average participation of community members in our recycling program, higher than many US cities

Approach

Partnering to Scale Impact Across
Argentina and Latin America

As we begin to scale our program to additional cities, we are partnering with Red Innovación Local (RIL), a network of more than 280 Argentine cities. Together we have launched an innovation group to guide a cohort of five cities—Bahía Blanca, Bariloche, Mendoza, Posadas, and Santa Fe—to identify their waste management challenges and deliver targeted, human-centered solutions that can be replicated across Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America. In collaboration with other members of RIL’s Public-Private Alliance for the Environment, which includes Coca-Cola, Genneia, Enel, Syngenta, Möbel Citta, and Fundación Avina, we aim to boost Argentina’s circular economy by co-designing, piloting, institutionalizing, and scaling waste management solutions in cities across the nation. 

Also supporting our work with RIL is the  World Economic Forum’s Scale360° initiative, which has built a global network of impact partners to drive real progress in building circular economies around the world. We are bringing Scale360°’s Circular Innovation Playbook to our innovation cohort of cities to advance their circularity.

Leveraging Technology

As with our work in Indonesia, we use technology in Argentina to empower waste workers and residents to lead the recycling transformation. In Barrio Mugica, for example, collection workers use QR code technology to track detailed data on recyclables, compostables, and mixed waste collected, enabling them to compare week-on-week performance and find appropriate solutions to problems that arise.

In Olavarría, we plan to bring both the operations platform and chatbot developed in Indonesia. The operations platform will be adapted to the more mechanized processes in Olavarría’s new recyclables sorting plant, and we plan to partner with recycling processors to extend the platform to trace recyclable waste from household doorstep to processor gate.


Bringing Supply and Demand Together

Our work with Barrio Mugica, Olavarría, and RIL aims to establish productive, cost-effective waste management systems as the “first mile” of recycling, and to lay the groundwork for a reliable and ethical supply chain for companies seeking to source recycled material. The next step is addressing the major challenges further along the recycling value chain in Argentina, such as building cost-effective aggregation and logistics networks, and translating corporate commitments into real recycling transactions. Working with nonprofits, recycling industry players, and corporate buyers, we’re now turning to solving these demand-side challenges.

What’s Ahead

  • Scaling our solutions to 1-2 million citizens nationwide in partnership with like-minded organizations, such as Red Innovación Local
  • Introducing digital solutions to trace material flows from at least a dozen cities in Argentina to processors, in partnership with leaders in the Argentinian recycling industry
  • Growing and stabilizing the supply of recycled waste to meet the demand and excess capacity of processors nationwide
  • Pursuing opportunities to launch our solutions in neighboring countries in Latin America

Our Argentina Team

Julia Arroyo
Associate
Jesús Bosso
Affiliated Waste Worker
Julieta Vallejo Brunner
Senior Associate
Lorena Cazaux
Senior Associate
Karen Choque
Affiliated Waste Worker
Daniela Garcia Clementi
Associate
Daisy De La Cruz
Change Agent
Martin del Pino
Senior Associate
Lucas Etchegoyhen
Senior Associate
Sofia Fanesi
Field Analyst
Angela Gallardo
Senior Coordinator
Noelia Curtido Gauto
Coordinator
Sandra Irala
Affiliated Waste Worker
Damián Lartirigoyen
Associate
Agustina Lemos
Coordinator
Angeles Loza
Senior Associate
Francisco Magnanini
Accounting Associate
Mauricio Mancini
Senior Associate
Cecilia Olmedo Martínez
Change Agent
Florencia Martinon
Senior Associate
Mariela Pascua
Associate
Juan Pedrazzi
Senior Associate
Claudio Nazareno Visgarra
Affiliated Waste Worker
Josefina Alexandra Sullivan Porras
Associate
Paz Porres
Senior Associate
Belen Ramos
Digital Associate
Sebastian Ratero
Project Lead
Larissa Sakamoto
Senior Program Manager
Pedro Santellán
Affiliated Waste Worker
Cecilia Sluga
Senior Project Lead
Tomás Splendore
Change Agent
Jorge Valderrey
Affiliated Waste Worker
Francisco Della Vecchia
Project Lead
Reinier van der Lely
Program Manager
Melisa Wilkinson
Project Lead
Sebastián Zaera
Senior Associate

Argentina Partners

Almado
Almado is an Argentina-based consultancy and social enterprise that helps organizations develop strategies and solutions to social challenges that have high social, environmental and economic impact and return on investment. Almado brings deep experience and relationships from working with both informal settlement communities, as well as private sector and impact investors. By collaborating with other cooperatives, city governments, and social enterprises, Almado hopes solutions like this can be quickly scaled up across and beyond Argentina.
Bintix

Bintix Waste Research is a Hyderabad, India-based company and works in the field of waste management and recycling. Bintix believes that the optimal use of technology-driven operations optimisation is a key towards making waste management a more sustainable endeavour, both at the generator level (e.g. households) and at the processor-level (e.g. waste management entities). Bintix’s existing software has been field tested for nearly 2 years now and has been fine-tuned extensively across a customer base consisting of 5000+ customers in several cities/regions and has helped meticulously track and recycle>200 MT of waste into more than 30 streams.

Badung Regency
Bali Government
City of Buenos Aires – Secretariat of Social and Urban Integration
The Secretariat for Social and Urban Integration of the City of Buenos Aires is undertaking an ambitious project to transform Barrio 31, one of the oldest informal settlements in the city, by improving access to education, health and economic opportunities; and ensuring basic services and adequate housing. The project also focuses on improving public spaces and developing innovative strategies to encourage better economic, cultural and social integration between Barrio 31 and other areas of Buenos Aires.
Clean Oceans through Clean Communities
Clean Oceans through Clean Communities (CLOCC) is an initiative by Avfall Norge, with ISWA as implementing partner. CLOCC is supported by Norad, and is a part of the Norwegian government’s development programme to reduce marine plastic pollution and microplastics. CLOCC’s partners include InSWA (Indonesia Solid Waste Association), Rethinking Recycling Academy and SYSTEMIQ. CLOCC’s objective is to reduce marine plastic pollution through improving waste management on land.
EcoBali
Established in 2006, ecoBali is a waste management company working in the south of Bali, Indonesia. The organization works to encourage a zero-waste lifestyle and promote responsible waste management through the collection, recycling and composting of waste. It operates its own Material Recovery Facility,conducts educational programs in schools and communities, and designs and markets eco-friendly products. EcoBali has developed tailored programs in waste management (including Waste Banks), environmental education and sustainable lifestyle, and has established extended producer responsibility programs together with companies such as Tetra Pak, The Body Shop, AQUA and Bali Buda.
Indonesian Ministries
Olavarría

Olavarría is located in the center of the Province of Buenos Aires and was founded on November 25, 1867. It has numerous green spaces and a large park that borders the Tapalqué Stream. Due to its strategic position, it has a great influence that has favored its growth. There is a balance between the harmony of a town and the hustle and bustle of a big city, generating an ideal environment to rest and/or to be able to choose to enjoy several activities to do and to feel new experiences in the free times. That is why the management of the environment and the improvement in the quality of life of its population is a strategic issue for the city.

RIL – Red de Innovación Local
RIL (from their name in spanish Red de Innovación Local) is a non-partisan and non-profit civil association that works with local government teams with the objective of enhancing their management capabilities and strengthening their transformative power to improve the quality of life of their citizens and help them develop. RIL works in Argentina with more than 1,400 local officials from 280 cities, 69 cities from other 11 countries in Latin America and 20 cities from Europe and Africa. The cities that are part of the network have access to programs and tools to turn into collaborative, innovative, efficient, sustainable, and digital cities.
Second Muse
Second Muse believes that economies are easily shaped and influenced in their infancy, so they start by supporting entrepreneurs and the ecosystems around them. They do this by engaging participants and organizations through a mix of innovation programming (hackathons, incubators, accelerators), supporting ecosystem development, and designing and distributing investment funds.
SYSTEMIQ
SYSTEMIQ is a systems change company that partners with business, finance, policy-makers, and civil society to make economic systems truly sustainable. We combine high-level research with high-impact, on-the-ground work. We’re a “think-and-do” tank that sparks good disruptions and operates with purpose at our core.
Waste 4 Change
Waste 4 Change is focused on changes in the Responsible Waste Management Ecosystem Based on Collaboration and Technology Towards the Implementation of a Circular Economy and a Waste-Free Indonesia
World Business Council For Sustainable Development (wbcsd)
WBCSD is the premier global, CEO-led community of over 200 of the world’s leading sustainable businesses working collectively to accelerate the system transformations needed for a net-zero, nature positive, and more equitable future.

Five years ago we embarked, as part of the City of Buenos Aires Government, on the Barrio Mugica integration project, an historic transformation of one the City’s most emblematic informal settlements. Although hard infrastructure issues were the most pressing ones, we strongly believed that inclusive, collaborative projects focused on sustainability also had their place.

Rethinking Recycling’s Barrio Mugica project is one of these highly successful initiatives. It partnered with City staff and 13 local labor cooperatives to provide the residents with door-to-door waste collection and recycling services: a win-win for everyone. Cooperatives now benefit from the income generated by the sale of recyclables and local residents are increasingly proud of their improved surroundings

Donatella Orsi
Director of Economic Development, Ministry of Human Development, Buenos Aires City