Latin America is rated as the next growth area globally for electronic waste recycling, also called urban mining. Recent business studies showed the entire Caribbean, Central and South American expanse has potential to find a new revenue source in e-waste recycling.
Increased e-waste recycling is set to raise the profile of countries where the recycling of business, household and industrial detritus until recently was a meager occupation for impoverished children and adults subsisting on the fringes of society.
Chile pioneered e-waste recycling by organizing an age-old infrastructure of freelance e-waste collectors in urban areas into a viable business working in tandem with international buyers of reprocessed metals. Now it's Bolivia's turn to rework the model for its own ends.
California firm Green Technology Solutions, Inc. is working with Chilerecicla, its Chilean recycling partner, in a new project announced this week to take the business into Bolivia.
"This is a big step forward in our ambitious plans to apply this successful business model in growing markets, with the U.S. being our No. 1 target," GTSO Chief Executive Officer Paul Watson said as the partners announced their move into Bolivia. GTSO has headquarters in San Jose, Calif.
Chilerecicla operates an e-waste recycling plant in southern Chile and maintains crucial relationships with overseas smelters with the right to sell recovered metals and minerals.
With a feasibility study on the region now complete, the joint venture has targeted Bolivia as an ideal territory for growth, the companies said.
"Our partner has already signed an agreement with one of Bolivia's largest e-waste operators and the initial purchases of raw e-waste materials are expected to begin this week," Watson said. The Bolivian partners were not mentioned.
E-waste is a major source, neglected for years, of materials needed by manufacturing sectors worldwide. E-waste is a welcome substitute for often more expensive newly smelted metals or newly extracted minerals.
The United States, a major producer of goods that result in e-waste, is also seen as the world's largest source of the valuable rubbish. For years now much of that electronic junk from cellphones, computers and household appliances has been disappearing into landfills, with potentially hazardous consequences for human habitation, animal life and water resources.
New strategies are geared toward changing much -- but not yet all -- of that.
GTSO says expertise gained in Chilerecicla's Bolivian expansion will help it to "make a big splash in the largely underexploited U.S. e-waste recycling sector."
The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act introduced into Congress late in July could prove to be a "gold mine" for recyclers like GTSO, with new technologies making recycling more efficient -- and potentially, more profitable -- than ever before, the company says.
E-waste recycling is key to GTSO's plans to compete alongside major international corporations striving for sustainable waste solutions, such as Industrial Services of America and Sims Metal Management Ltd. Late in 2012, GTSO bought Global Cell Buyers, now rebranded as Green Urban Mining, to handle more and more domestic recycling and resale operations.
The term "urban mining" eventually will be applied globally to the capture of reusable wastes of all sorts -- but most particularly metals, including gold, silver, copper and aluminum, and plastics.
A U.S. program is collecting discarded markers from schools and turning them into fuel. Similar programs on recycling plastics are well advanced in Brazil and other Latin American countries, but e-waste ventures are just starting up in countries with mountains of electronic litter, some already buried in toxic landfills.
Earlier in August, Emory University's Goizueta Business School in Atlanta said its students were helping to solve a waste problem in Bolivia's Santa Cruz region.
The students will work on the feasibility of building a more efficient recycling plant, creating jobs in the process.