Giving Value to Waste: Canada and Panama examine waste management

Audience listening to Mrs. Ariadna Arroyo, National speaker during the conference.

In Panama City, where 30% of the country’s population lives, the main landfill receives the equivalent of 4 full Boeings 747 of waste per month, with no formal waste ‘separation’ system.  This situation is repeated on a smaller scale in municipalities all across the country.

Pierre Fillion, Canadian expert, explaining the history of our global shared consumer system.

Representatives from different NGOs, public and private Institutions, were present.

Photo49: Kathryn Burkell, STC, opens the conference on behalf of the Ambassador.

Recycling in Panama involves poorer citizens sorting through garbage at the city dump searching for anything they can find of value. The lack of trash collection is one of the major issues confronting the country at the moment.

The Embassy of Canada to Panama recently spearheaded a joint program with Panama’s Environmental Authority (ANAM) and the City of Knowledge Foundation to initiate a "Discussion on Recycling in Panama".

Given the recently enacted Canada-Panama Environmental Cooperation Agreement, and the opportunity to shed new light on the challenges and possibilities of change, the timing was almost perfect.

Stakeholders came on board with an interest in reactivating recycling talks and of learning more about Quebec’s recycling model to see to what extent it could be applied in Panama.

The Embassy invited Canadian Pierre Fillion, President of FEPAC, the Federation of Plastics and Alliances Composites to showcase Canada’s success with the 3R+R formula (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle).

Over 60 activists and decision makers attended the conference from both the public and private sector including: chambers, private enterprise, supermarket reps, academia, non-governmental organizations and public institutions, all related to some part of the chain of production, consumption and waste system of the city. 

It was important to involve such a wide cross-section of participants as waste management is not a problem of a single institution — it is everybody's problem and a whole-of-society approach is required in order for these initiatives to be successful. 

Mr. Filion’s described how we have arrived and survived to date in a global shared system. According to Filion, this system will not be sustainable for much longer.

“If you do not make changes and soon, it is most likely that our economic and social systems will collapse at any time”, said Fillion.  In addition to explaining the Quebec recycling model, Fillion also highlighted the “extended responsibility for producers” law which stipulates that companies that produce or manufacture products have a responsibility to pay for the closure of the life cycle of each product manufactured, be it a pen, a soda can, or a car.

He encouraged the adoption of this law in Panama or at least to start contemplating the inclusion of the private sector in a regulatory framework of this kind.

Fillion also discussed citizen’s important role in reducing and recycling.  To achieve this recycling mentality in people’s minds, we must start, he argues, by giving value to what we call "scrap" and create an awareness in people that what you throw away is actually valuable and has a useful and economically feasible life, if it is processed and recycled by the proper channels.

He also spoke about the “law of sustainable development” which currently, only Quebec and 5 other countries in the world are implementing.

The conference also featured local speaker Ms. Ariadna Arroyo of Panama’s Waste Management Authority (AAUD) who provided a glimpse of what has been done by different actors (public and private institutions) in Panama in the field of recycling and the importance of coordination among all groups involved in the matter. 

The diverse attendance in the room led to a lively question and answer session where many participants raised questions regarding how a sustainable law could be applied in Panama, the role of governance in the recycling model, and specifics around the recycling of plastics, paper and others items like tires. 

“We all know that the problem of recycling in Panama and in any other country is not a problem of a single institution - it is everybody's problem. All of us who are here are part of one or another other form of the chain of production, consumption and waste in which we live.  But we all also share the desire to walk in cleaner cities, with an air more breathable, healthier trees and more resilient ecosystems.  We are delighted to play a role in achieving.” – Kathryn Burkell, Senior Trade Commissioner