Emerging markets are experiencing rapid economic development creating hundreds of millions of new middle-class consumers in the process.

With that comes increased consumption of consumer packaged goods and in turn, dramatic increases in both packaging waste generation and the costs to manage it. Municipal waste generation globally is projected to increase from 1.3 to 2.2 billion tonnes per year with $375 billion of waste management costs falling hardest on cities in low-income countries (source: World Bank, 2012. Climate Change Focused Attention Sustainable Development in 2012).

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This challenge is unfolding in a context of woefully inadequate waste management policies and infrastructure, growing resource scarcity, and the vast majority of recycling being done today by “informal recyclers” (also referred to as waste pickers, catadores, cartonero, etc.). Much of this material is sorted from mixed waste containers, streetscapes and open dump sites by a vulnerable population working in extremely difficult conditions. All of these factors are rapidly converging in emerging markets with significant cost risks to the producers of the products that become waste in these countries.

Many of the leading multi-national CPG companies have ambitious global sales growth targets.  It remains to be seen whether they will have the foresight and the wisdom to get ahead of this growing risk.  First generation producer responsibility legislation has already been introduced in Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa and is expected to soon be introduced into markets as diverse as Chile, Mexico and Russia. While some leading CPG companies have voluntarily supported small-scale recovery pilots in emerging markets, no coherent strategy has yet been developed for bringing them to scale.

We work with multi-national companies to bring viable product stewardship solutions to scale in emerging markets. Essential to this effort is first understanding that no single company has the capacity to meet this challenge working on their own. We support their work to bring NGOs, donor and government agencies and other CPG companies together to craft solutions which are both sustainable and inclusive of the informal sector and the existing recycling value chain. Through this broader collaboration, we see significant opportunities to increase the range and volume of materials collected, to influence and shape the next generation waste management legislation required in these countries and to build recycling and recovery supply chains of which companies can be proud.

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