Webstories

Feb 14, 2011

Recycling: an opportunity for change in Colombia

Colombians change their life and transform their family’s financial situation through a recycling project supported by the IDB

Óscar Restrepo never imagined that recycling garbage could change his life. Previously a construction worker, he now owns a small business that gives him a monthly income of US$490 a month; six years ago his monthly earnings were only US$40.

Restrepo, originally from Colombia’s Municipality of Envigado in the department of Antioquia, participates in one of 18 projects supported by the Productive Chain Program in the Framework of Corporate Social Responsibility (ProRSE). The Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group, and the National Business Association of Colombia support this program. Financial resources are provided by the Italian Trust Fund, which is administered by the IDB.

The project supports the sustainable development of recyclers in Envigado and the practice of recycling. The idea was born eight years ago with the founding of Preambiental, a worker’s cooperative, with support from the sanitation agency of the Municipality of Envigado.

To ensure the project’s sustainability, in 2009 the project invited entrepreneurs to take part in the business to ensure that recyclable materials would be acquired directly by recycling companies, eliminating middlemen. Companies participating in the program include OI Peldar, Prooductos Familia, Cartón de Colombia, and others.

In addition, the Municipality of Envigado is offering special programs through its health, environment, and economic development agencies, such as the Healthy Families initiative sponsored by the Health Department.

"The most important part of this program is the supplementary benefits that I have received,” said Restrepo. “They provide us with up to four vouchers for US$25 each to exchange for food, which we are repaying with earnings from future deliveries,” he said, noting that the training he has received has improved his life.

Restrepo also said this new income from recycling has enabled him to benefit from subsidized housing through the Public Works Department, including a loan for US$8,000 to purchase his home. Members of Preambiental have also received subsidies for home improvement from the Family Foundation and the Bertha Martinez Foundation.

This project is one of 18 that are supported through the ProRSE program with financing from the Italian Fund for Microenterprise Development, administered by the IDB, Colombian private sector companies and local governments, said Christine Ternent, a MIF specialist in Colombia.

"In 2008 we set out to support six projects to benefit 420 families, with IDB financing of US$1,050,000 in addition to US$500,000 from private sources,” she said. “Today, the IDB continues to provide the same level of funding, but entrepreneurs, foundations, and local governments contribute a greater share, totaling nearly US$4 million. The projects have so far changed the lives of 2,644 families, and will be operating for still another year.

“The program was very successful because we worked together with the National Business Association of Colombia and the manager of the program, Ricardo Garzón, to search for companies to identify which products or services they wished to purchase,” Ternent said. “we then passed along this information and helped the people organize themselves to provide these products and services with the price, volume, quality and timely delivery demanded by the customer.”

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