The transition to a circular economy, including the move to a form of full Extended Producer Responsibility, invariably requires adapting international models to local political, economic and environmental circumstances. In many developing countries, one of the most challenging questions is how to incorporate the existing and often well-entrenched informal waste recovery sector within regulatory models which make international product makers the responsible party for operating reverse supply chains for their end-of-life goods and related packaging. Circular economy makes for strange bedfellows.

“Waste Pickers” Trade Included in Regulatory Scheme

Chile’s landmark circular economy law, the 2016 Framework Law for Waste Management, Extended Producer Responsibility and Promotion of Recycling, is perhaps the first international law which directly tries to incorporate the existing informal waste sector into the regulated market as a recognized, certified trade. The Framework Law contains a stepped certification and licencing process for waste pickers which:

  • provides the necessary education program to allow waste contractors to learn the requirements for managing waste under the applicable regulations;
  • certifies successful program participants as waste contractors (with a 5-year certification window for current waste pickers);
  • requires registration of all interested waste contractors under the EPR scheme;
  • permits registered waste contractors to participate in public education campaigns with municipalities regarding consumer participation;
  • authorizes these waste contractors to directly enter into waste collection contracts with municipalities and producer responsibility organizations; and
  • mandates that waste pickers fulfil all of the health and safety administrative requirements owed by any other contractor under EPR.

In other words, make waste pickers an arms-length, but integral part of the reverse supply chain through a formal certification and authorization process instead of trying to supplant them with corporate waste management collection and hauling companies.

But Will the Waste Pickers Get the Contracts?

Maybe the most obvious question is – will the private sector have sufficient comfort to contract with individuals or entities of previously informal waste pickers for the purposes of obtaining end-of-life products and other materials? The evidence from the program’s inception seems to be encouraging.  International food and drink companies, as well as waste industries giants, have already committed to funding elements of the program, signaling the embrace of Corporate Americas with this initiative.

Under the Framework Law, end-of-life products could be collected by the municipalities (under specific agreements with PROs) and not necessarily by producers themselves. Certified waste pickers enjoy an exclusive right under this process to reach direct agreements with municipalities to provide collection and sorting services without having to compete in a formal bidding process with waste industries companies.  This preference might give waste pickers needed legitimacy to remain a central part of Chile’s EPR.

Regional Model as Bulwark against Globalized Practice?

Finally, the informal waste sector in many countries has remained deeply dispersed due to the local, low cost nature of the activities and the absence of any imperatives to coalesce around conglomerations.

As producers will increasingly be compelled to participate in reverse supply chains for their products, calls for international service alliances will be inevitable. For Chile’s inclusive scheme to survive in the long run, it will likely need adoption on a regional level and there are certainly signs elsewhere in Latin America that social aims, such as  formalizing waste pickers’ role in resource recovery, has the political support to make these requirements accepted practice.


Chile’s bold step to include the informal waste sector in its nascent circular economy is to be applauded. Certified waste pickers, as contracted by municipalities, will have the opportunity to formalize and legitimize their role in the circular economy, thereby giving the scheme needed grassroots support for its long-term success.


For further information, please contact Jonathan Cocker or Rodrigo Leiva Neumann:

[email protected]


[email protected]

+56 9 72143053


Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm's Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation. Mr. Cocker maintains a blog focused upon international resource recovery issues at


Rodrigo Leiva Neumann's 25-year career in waste management began in France and continued in Chile where he managed national waste and recovery programs across several industry sectors as a Veolia Environment executive. Rod established his consulting practice in 2010 to play an active role in in the establishment of Chile's new Environmental Producer Responsibility. Rod has been actively involved in Chilean EPR since its introduction in 2010. He works closely with the Chilean Environmental Agency and major industry producers, initially to develop the nation's EPR Law Framework, and more recently, to advise Government and Industry on the implementation of EPR Law relating to Chile's 6 priority products (packaging, WEEE, Tyres, used oils, car batteries and batteries for electronic devices).