High energy costs and low waste collection rates continue to burden the recycling sector in the Philippines, according to Bulacan’s Rural Industrial Corp.

“The cost of electricity has increased by over 30%, while fuel costs have almost doubled since the pandemic and the ongoing war abroad,” said Max L. Sy, general manager of the paper recycling company in Santa Maria, Bulacan. 

Another challenge is sourcing recycling-ready wastes.

“It’s still challenging due to the lack of awareness about the recyclability of UBCs (used beverage cartons),” he told BusinessWorld on Feb. 14. “Improvements also need to be done at our local MRFs (materials recovery facilities).”

An MRF receives, separates, and prepares recyclables to be sold to an end buyer. 

The company, Mr. Sy said, is able to sustain its operations and cover for rising costs through an increase in its mill’s efficiency by reducing rejects and improving production processes. 

“We were also able to increase our revenue stream by around 8% through our board production line made from UBCs,” he added. 

When asked about demand, he said: “There’s definitely still a stigma that recycled products are generally less durable and should be cheap; however, that’s not entirely true and, of course, with the right technology and innovation, recycled products can be a proper alternative to existing products, and actually provide economic value.”

“For our Poly Al Pro boards (eco boards) and recycled packaging paper, there’s definitely a demand and market in the construction and packaging industry, respectively,” he added.

The company uses UBCs from companies like Tetra Pak Philippines, a food packaging solutions provider, and recycles these into either paper that can be used for paper bags and news prints, or boards that can be used for tiles, furniture, and roofing. 

Tetra Pak’s UBCs are 75% carton, 20% polyethylene (the most commonly used plastic), and 5% aluminum.  

The widespread adoption of recycling requires a mindset change, according to Terrynz Tan, Tetra Pak’s sustainability director for Southeast Asia.  

“Creating the behavior so it becomes automatic… that needs time – even generations – to switch that behavior,” she said. 

Tetra Pak, Ms. Tan added, has organized awareness campaigns at around 200 public and private schools in the greater Manila area. 

“We teach them that recyclables should be treated with respect. Send recyclables to proper recycling centers,” she said. “There’re still so many areas we can cover. It’s a journey. We take one step at a time.”  

Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled worldwide, according to a 2022 report of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD.

“Another 19% is incinerated, 50% ends up in landfill and 22% evades waste management systems and goes into uncontrolled dumpsites, is burned in open pits or ends up in terrestrial or aquatic environments, especially in poorer countries,” it said. — Patricia B. Mirasol