South America has evidently realized the importance of moving away from today’s ‘take, make, waste’ linear economy to circular economy approaches and is now more relevant than ever. The region has gained high-level political attention and support which gives the region an opportunity to build a new wave of development and prosperity - one that benefits society, the economy and the environment and tackles the root causes of global challenges
Santiago, the capital of Chile is examining a transformational change for better and healthier alternatives under different markets. One such change has been seen made by a small company named Algramo which is preventing plastic waste and bringing refills to consumers in the most convenient way. The idea was established in a low-income neighbourhood where staple foods such as rice and lentils were sold in refillable containers in nearby grocery shops. The company allows customers to purchase any amount of product, at a fixed price while supporting local businesses. This helps in eliminating single-use plastic packaging while at the same time lessening economic burdens.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Since 2013 the city of Buenos Aires has been doing commendable work towards sustainability in the domains of solid waste management, sustainable mobility, sustainable food systems, and energy efficiency. One such venture in Buenos Aires, ‘En-Haccore soup kitchen’ uses the circular economy approach to fight poverty. The kitchen has a solar thermal system for transforming solar energy into heat. In this poor district of the city, there is no connection to natural gas pipelines, however, now people need to buy fewer gas bottles but also increases their access to energy. The waste produced by the soup kitchen is used to produce compost for the association's roof garden. Waste also feeds the biodigester, which transforms organic waste into biogas, meaning less energy is used for cooking. Another initiative includes a collection of cooking oil to make biodiesel. Such an example takes care of the environment and helps people access energy and healthy food.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The availability of natural resources and cultural diversity is clearly seen in the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Environmental awareness is on the low side and exaggerated consumerism is well-accepted not only in this city but in the whole of Brazil. One of the main challenges is the pollution caused in Guanabara Bay where 70% of untreated sewage from 9 billion people of the city flows into the bay. This has a direct impact on the lives of the residents surrounding the area. This is resulting in the degradation of mangroves and depletion in fish stocks. The Guanabara Bay Circular Action Clean-Up Project was initiated which would mobilize thousands of independent waste pickers to undertake a large-scale clean-up of the bay and connect this activity to the Circular Credits Mechanism (CCM). CCM is an innovative new market mechanism to provide a sustainable source of income for low-income groups in developing countries that engage in waste collection, recovery, and recycling. Thus, the project aims to restore the natural ecosystems and provide a source of income to ragpickers by implementing a circular economy approach.
São Paulo, Brazil
Along with Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo is also considered as one of the richest cities in the country, however, facing certain challenges environmentally and economically. Connect the Dots is a venture that aims to create a food system network that tackles social inequality and supports regenerative farming. It is considered as an example of a circular economy for food since it fully supports local farmers as they transit to regenerative practices of framing. Such regenerative farming practice helps rebuild soil health; promotes biodiversity and tackle climate change; and reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers. Along with this, technical assistance is provided to the farmers as a tool for supporting the management of farmers.
Peru is taking serious initiatives to adopt a circular economy in line with sustainable development. There are several start-ups based in Lima which have adopted this approach under various domains. Lima Express is partnering with SABIA, a micro-company run by women in the Rimac neighbourhood in Lima, dedicated to recycling. The project is helping in manufacturing bags and kits by recycling the advertising posters on the expressways once the campaigns are over. This initiative will be extended to the used uniforms of the Lima Express teams, which will be used to make backpacks.
Another initiative addresses the circular economy of food by a Peruvian start-up, Sinba. Their business model includes four stages, that are: Advising caterers and restaurants in managing organic waste; creating an alliance with recyclers; transforming organic waste into animal feed; and commercializing the food to urban pig farmers. Such start-ups are providing climate-smart solutions that could be adopted by several cities of the world in reducing their emissions.
Montevideo has been constantly showing commitment towards adopting the circular economy model under various domains. Various programs and workshops have been organized in the city for discussing real business opportunities and provide sustainable solutions to producing from the angle of the circular economy. Studies show that the re-use of the industrial architecture in the city of Montevideo may lead to a way to implement the circular economy model, by dividing waste from environmental re- sources such as land use, energy, and materials, and by creating a shared social value owing to its relationships with the social, cultural and economic history of the territory. As a country, Uruguay has already developed its National Circular Economy Action Plan which was launched in 2019.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Belo Horizonte is considered to be Brazil’s first planned city with extensive mining and industrial activities taking place. In 2008, Belo Horizonte’s Computer Reconditioning Centre (CRC) was established as an electronics remanufacturing facility by the government, that reduces electronic waste and tackles youth unemployment. The program aims to achieve its goal of digital inclusion in low-income areas with digital products and received an award in 2011 as the most digitally advanced city. Its multifaceted approach towards solving environmental problems and increasing the job prospects of local people makes it one of the great examples of a circular economy.
The city of Quito has developed an urban resilience strategy more specific to circular economy development. The strategy addresses five subsystems that are interdependent: social systems and the citizen participation system; ecosystems and natural resources; technical systems; economy and risk management. The circular economy explicitly addresses specifically the economy sector however, pertains to all other dimensions. The result of using the circular economy model has led to 1. Job creation by investing in neighbourhood friendly waste management activities; 2. Strong local production systems; and 3. The environmental improvement is due to improved waste collection and management systems.
La Paz, Bolivia
The administrative capital of Bolivia, La Paz is working towards taking its Integrated Waste Management Law (2015) to the next level by adopting the circular economy approach. However, a national policy is essential to promote the concept and make people more aware of it to include in the business models. One of the projects that is promoting this challenge is ‘Markets for Recycling’ in Bolivia, which seeks to strengthen the business ecosystem for green businesses in the country, mainly of micro, small and medium-sized companies that carry out the recovery of certain types of waste, such as tires, batteries, and scrap metal.
In 2001, Rosario was hit by a major crisis pertaining to unemployment and food security which collapsed the industrial economy. In an effort to tackle these challenges several local and international organisations collaborated to develop a program known as Urban Agriculture Program which highly succeeded in its mission. The program is considered a great example of circular economy as it helped in providing employment especially to the target population of women, youth and migrants and local urban food production helped in preventing food waste and redistributing food surplus to the needy.
About the Author
Nehmat Singh (LinkedIn) is a geographer and urbanist with interest areas in an urban environment, ecosystem services and sustainability. She pursued her master's in urban management and development from IHS, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Along with being an urban enthusiast, she is constantly trying to improve her baking skills.