Making recycling work

What Invema Group, a Honduran-based waste recycler with a sister company in El Salvador, has achieved in economic, environmental and social terms is nothing short of remarkable. Its successful story is an example for a highly sustainable business.

Starting in the early nineties with two employees and the collection of aluminium beverage cans, Invema has consequently been growing. Today, it is the largest recycler in Central America, and the only producer of food grade recycled PET resin and packaging approved by Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestlé in Central America. Invema currently employs 400 people and recycles all kinds of non-organic waste. 12,000 t of waste is processed each month, a sixth of it being PET bottles. Invema sells the produced rPET to various national and international customers but also uses it to produce 100% food grade rPET sheet for thermoform containers which it is marketing under the brand name “lu’um”.

Recycler in Central America trusts in Starlinger technology

In 2016 Invema invested in a Starlinger recoStar PET 125 HC iV+ bottle-to-bottle line with a production output of 8,000 t of regranulate per year. “Provide our suppliers with the best market for their scrap and deliver to our customers eco-friendly products on time with quality they can trust.” is George Gatlin’s, General Director of Invema Group, daily goal. That important brand-owners rely on rPET pellets from Invema proves that the investment in the Starlinger bottle-to-bottle line was the right decision to fulfill this objective. As second part of the investment, George Gatlin opted for the production of food grade rPET sheet and added a viscoSheet rPET extrusion line with a deCon flake decontamination reactor for producing 100% food grade rPET sheet. “We strive in investing in the most modern technology to be able to process and trade scrap in the most efficient way”, says Gatlin. As the company is expanding rPET production due to increased demand, they have purchased a second recoStar PET 125 HC iV+ from Starlinger which will be delivered in March 2021.

Environmental protection and social responsibility

In order to get input materials Gatlin built up a national collection network where people of any age, level of education or gender are compensated equally and fairly. “In Honduras, recycling is a way of living, and it provides a way of living for thousands of people. We have a lot of poverty here and recycling is a solution for the people” he says. Because of Gatlin and his efforts the collection rate for PET bottles in Honduras has reached 84%. This is much higher than the European average. But not only PET is collected; Invema collects all types of plastics as well as metal, paper, and electronic scrap through approximately 20,000 suppliers. Considering that each supplier gathers waste from about 40 people, it means that as much as 800,000 people directly benefit from recycling. Invema has a monthly education program for suppliers where they can learn financial stability, thus guaranteeing their continued growth. Invema also runs one of the largest solar power systems in Latin America, producing about 2 megawatts of electricity through 5,600 solar panels, which is approximately a 40 % saving in their electric consumption. For waste water, the company set up a treatment plant that recycles it for further use.

The right thing to do

“We’ve gotten ourselves into a situation where we need to make a change – and that starts by taking recycling seriously”, says George Gatlin. In summer 2020 Invema, together with their business partner Lacerta Group, Inc. based in Mansfield, USA, have launched a striking video clip in which George Gatlin and Lacerta Principal Mostafa Lotfi explain how recycling works and lay out their vision of how a vertically integrated business model can lead the way in the packaging industry. “The most important thing is to believe in technology and not to be afraid to invest. Technology today allows us to recycle plastic infinite times”, George Gatlin points out. “If the consumer is conscious, if the industry is conscious, if we invest in the equipment, in the processes in the right way there is no doubt that recycling can work. But it has to be a team effort”.

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