The Union of Enterprises for the Recovery of Raw Materials (UERMP), a Cuban entity responsible for the recovery, processing, and commercialization of recyclable materials and waste generated by industry, services, and communities, plays a key role in caring for the environment.
Marilín Ramos Polanco, UERMP head of Human Resources, explained the main challenges faced today: “Our fundamental aim is to substitute imports, and also to obtain revenues from exports of some of this waste, which can not be reused within the country itself. For this year we must recover, process, and sell about 400 thousand tons.
“At the close of the first half of the year, that figure was surpassed by 50%, and we are set to fulfill our commitments,” the interviewee added.
The institution’s main clients are the country’s steelworks: Antillana de Acero and the Stainless Steel Enterprise of the province of Las Tunas (ACINOX), which consume all the ferrous scrap metal collected by UERMP, its main product, used to produce molten steel and its derivatives.
In addition, centers such as the Conrado Benítez Electrical and Telephone Conductors Enterprise (ELEKA), located in the municipality of San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque province, purchases recycled copper from the organization to produce wire.
Ramos noted that glass containers are supplied to beverages and liquor factories, while other companies are provided with paper and cardboard waste. The latter is mainly used for egg cartons, and the production of notebooks.
She added that UERMP’s contribution to import substitution through the recovery of raw materials saves the country some 150 million dollars.
“The impact of what we do is strong, even though we have a number of dissatisfactions, because we know that a lot of reusable waste still goes to landfill,” she noted.
Ramos added that despite Cuba’s Law 1288, which requires productive state entities to collect waste and hand it over to raw materials enterprises, the legislation is not always properly enforced.
She also explained that work is undertaken with the population: “Today there is a network of 312 local facilities that purchase recyclable products throughout the country.”
At present, a lot of solid waste is discarded, polluting the environment. As such, a study was carried out to apply recycling technologies in Cuba that are already applied internationally, noted Estela Domínguez, UERMP deputy director general of Business.
“As one of the approved investments, it was agreed to implement a comprehensive system to manage solid waste in Cuba. It was decided to start sorting waste, in residential areas and in garbage containers, as organic and inorganic, since they should not be mixed so that they can be reused,” she added.
Domínguez explained that this new system will extend from the collection to the deposit of waste, and what can not be recycled, because it is contaminated or does not have the characteristics that clients request, will be subjected to another process - the creation of fuel derived from waste.
“Thus there will be two fundamental lines, on the one hand we will sort all the inorganic waste to sell to our clients, and the organic waste will be used to produce fuel. For this we must begin to promote citizen awareness, since we will start to separate the garbage from the family home,” Domínguez added.
As Granma International was informed, this process will be rolled out in stages. Havana will be the first city to start the project, which will then spread throughout the country.
“The capital will be the first, because it has the worst environmental conditions and the largest population. We are working on an audiovisual campaign to support this decision,” the UERMP deputy director general continued.
MAIN USES OF RECYCLED MATERIALS
Isabel González Abreu, UERMP director of Non-metallic and Non-ferrous Waste, explained that the recovery, processing, and sales activity is organized according to three main groups: ferrous materials, including steel scrap; non-ferrous metals, covering copper, bronze, stainless steel, and others; and in the case of non-metallic products paper, cardboard, plastic, packaging and textile waste.
At the end of June, 66% of sales were ferrous scrap metal, non-ferrous scrap represented 8% of sales, and non-metallic waste 22%.
Non-ferrous scrap comes mainly from machinery parts and components that can no longer be used. The main sources are the Ministry of Industries (Mindus), the Ministry of Energy and Mines (Minem), the Ministry of Transport (Mitrans) and the population.
“The main clients are ELEKA, the Cuban Bronze Enterprise, local industries, the Cultural Goods Fund, the Metalwork Industry, and railway foundries. The scrap that remains as surplus is exported,” González added.
The national sales plan executed through June is 152 million pesos, and planned sales for the year are in the order of 300 million, while the export plan represents approximately 31 million.
In the case of non-metallic products, such as paper and cardboard, 14,000 tons have been sold so far this year. The main sources of these materials are printing houses, the print and graphics industry, tourist resorts, and the residential sector.
González noted that work continues with the state sector to sort materials at origin, to ensure they are delivered to where they are most needed according to the type of paper waste generated.
“In the case of print works, they generate scrap gazette (newsprint) paper and this is used for egg trays; if it is mixed it can not be used for that type of product; bond paper is used for sanitary paper, but if it is mixed it is of lower quality and can not be used for its final destination, which is tourism,” she continued.
Plastic packaging is also recovered and sold to local industries, mainly to support the water conservation program, and used for the production of hoses and pipes.
González stressed that one of the products that has supported growth this year is glass containers. UERMP has a sales plan of 95.9 million pesos in this area, and to date it has made sales worth 60 million. Beer bottles represent 64% of these sales.
“One of the shortcomings we face today is the recovery of aluminum, as beer is imported in cans, and these have a greater steel content, so steel scrap increases, but aluminum decreases,” Ramos added.
However, one of the main dissatisfactions expressed by the population is the non-recovery of glass bottles, as these pollute the environment.
“Customized bottles can not be recycled. Today we still don’t have investment in the country that allows for the grinding of this glass to be reused in new bottles. And that is why we are working on the creation of a factory in the Mariel Special Development Zone, which will produce glass containers,” Ramos continued.
Dayamí Suárez Ramos, UERMP director of Investments, explained that financing is one of the main problems faced at present.
Waste is recovered with the enterprise’s specialized transportation equipment, such as forklifts, loaders, cranes, and backhoes.
On taking stock of the technical state of this equipment, it was found that of the more than 2,000 units, 80% have been in operation for more than 25 years.
“We focused on creating a program to replace equipment, categorized in two groups, transport and lifting, and handling, the latter aimed directly at the extraction of ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal,” the director explained.
However, the program has been limited due to the lack of financing to carry out such a project.
Suárez noted that while UERMP invests in repairs and maintenance, it is not currently possible to raise the equipment availability coefficient, making it much harder to meet plans and also increasing costs.
In addition to investment in solid and urban inorganic waste, which is being worked on, another project was presented which proposes to wash glass containers, specifically rum and wine bottles, however, again there is still no financial support to present this within the economic plan.
“We have a series of identified problems that we can not address because the country does not have the necessary economic capital. This is also the case for used tires. At the moment, nothing is done with this product and it pollutes the environment,” she explained.
Meanwhile, a vessel salvage yard exists in Bahía Honda, Artemisa province, where out-of-service boats are bought, and today this represents one of the fundamental sources for scrap metal, as this material is in short supply throughout the country. Works are ongoing with joint venture companies to create more sites of this kind across the island.
Another way of obtaining scrap metal is through industrial dismantling; however, Cuba has few specialized teams in this field.
Despite these problems and challenges, UERMP has a significant economic, environmental, and social impact in the country, as well as being a source of employment. The organization has 6,000 state employees in its 25 subordinate enterprises.
They are joined by 4,000 families, who were granted self-employed licenses to recycle, a vital activity for society. Plus there are 15 experimental recycling cooperatives dedicated to the recovery of scrap metal, which they then sell to UERMP for processing.