Image: Courtesy of Luis Duarte
At first, YoReciclo collected just two materials for recycling, and managed about 10 tons a month. Now, the Mexico-based company is up to 25 materials, including types of plastic not recyclable in most of the U.S., and more than 500 tons a month. And this is in a country where recycling, though common in industrial facilities, is a foreign concept to the everyday citizen.
Recognizing a Need
While recycling rates are still rather low in developed countries—33.8 percent in the U.S., for example, according to the EPA—YoReciclo cofounder Luis Duarte said recycling rates in Latin America are much closer to zero, and in Mexico, it's 3.3 percent.
Recycling just hasn't penetrated the culture yet (with some exceptions in isolated cities), largely because there's no mechanism allowing people to recycle in the first place. "Here in Mexico, we are used to mixing everything. We don't care about waste," said Duarte. "We don't know the stats about waste and the consequences of generating without any conscience."
Duarte and his partner, Héctor Elizondo, wanted to help change both the lack of infrastructure for recycling, and the complacent attitude toward waste. He said there are major recycling facilities throughout the country, but they source their materials from large suppliers: international companies abroad, for example—even though a steady stream of recyclable materials is produced locally, constantly.
But there was no collection system for it, and no reason for consumers to start separating out trash from recyclables.
Starting With Education
So the YoReciclo team goes out and take pictures of streets, lakes, rivers, anyplace that has a lot of trash lying around. They give presentations at schools, institutions—places they're trying to recruit to participate in the recycling collection program—and they start by showing these images.
"As soon as we show these pictures during our lecture and we jump into the statistics of Mexico and waste—and how much we produce and how much we could save if we start recycling—then people understand," he said.
And it's working. He said they have about 55 customers right now, and they vary from kindergarten schools to universities to corporate offices.
About two years ago, YoReciclo was managing about 10 tons of material monthly. Now it's about 500 tons, and they're planning to reach 1,000 tons a month by next year. And at first, they collected aluminum cans and PET bottles. Now, they collect everything from wood and plastic pallets to electronic waste, from cardboard to almost all plastics from #1 through #7. Duarte believes that the market already existed in Mexico—the demand for recyclable materials was always there.
"But there was no connection between private institutions and those recyclers," he said. "What YoReciclo is doing is creating a bridge to bring together those institutions into the recycling chain."
Duarte was a fellow at this year's Unreasonable Institute, which is now accepting applications for "the world's most brilliant and promising entrepreneurs" dedicated to making a positive social or environmental impact. Applications for next year's institute close on November 10th.