Inclusive circular economy: The production model that leaves no one out
Reading time: 16 min
Companies and organizations that convert waste into raw materials provide jobs and training to people with disabilities and young people who dropped out of school, a way of caring for the planet and the vulnerable groups that live on it.
At one end of the Tambre industrial park in Santiago de Compostela, this is a very modern junkyard. The building does not attract much attention from the outside. Inside, there is no very high-tech machinery either. Its state-of-the-art nature lies in its business model. Trameve, the name of this special employment center, recruits people with disabilities to its workforce and manages waste like motor oil and brake fluid responsibly.
The work that this leading-edge company in a traditional business has been doing for 30 years now has a name: the inclusive circular economy. It means taking a socially-oriented approach to a production model that uses waste, lengthens the life of products, and reduces the consumption of raw materials. Trameve employs people with physical disabilities in the same way that other companies governed by sustainability employ young people at risk of social exclusion and people with intellectual or sensory disabilities. They take care of the planet and of the vulnerable people who live on it.
Employment and disability
of working age (aged 16 to 64), which represents 6.3% of the total working-age population
are active workers (either employed or unemployed jobseekers)
are wage earners, and 3 out of every 4 have a permanent contract
among people with disabilities (6.8 points higher than the population with no disabilities)
It opens up an opportunity for respect for the environment to be linked with social inclusion. Daniel-Aníbal García, secretary of finance for the Spanish Confederation of People with Physical and Organic Disabilities (Cocemfe), warns of the importance of not leaving anyone out of this new production model, which is as revolutionary as the Industrial Revolution. “As the circular economy is sustainable, it may seem that it is also going to be governed by social criteria. But, it is not always that way,” he said.
“These groups have to be included from the beginning. If we do not have a presence in this new economy, the gap existing between people with disabilities and the rest is going to widen,” said García, who pointed to the continuing training of this group and training courses given by companies as the best tool for not leaving any worker behind. “People with disabilities are pigeonholed into activities with little added value, that are still productive and very decent, but we have to think that they can hold any position in a company, from the owner on down,” he added. These are some examples of organizations or special employment centers with a business model based on the inclusive circular economy.
Trameve - Automotive
People with physical disabilities
A spare part so that it does not have to come from Germany.
The mentoring and training never ends at Tameve, a special employment center (initials in Spanish, CEE). Companies of this type have at least 70% of people with disabilities on their payroll. They offer a paid productive job that fits the characteristics of these workers. Their ultimate aim is to make it easier for these vulnerable groups to integrate into what is known as the normal labor market, as opposed to the protected market, as found in special employment centers.
Luis Penido, its CEO, highlighted the trainings that have been given at the junkyard. “At one time, it was internationalization,” he explained, referring to the computing upgrade that led them to sell in the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, and Morocco. “We climbed onto the digitalization wagon and prepared our workers for it,” said the CEO of this junkyard, which employs 15 people with disabilities and has 100,000 parts cataloged and advertised on its website. “If not, you keep on having workers with a very basic background” added Penido. “Now we are giving training in the handling of electric car batteries,” he said. Today, it is air conditioning gases that have to be processed properly so as not to pollute. Tomorrow, it will be lithium batteries.
Victor Sangiao works in administration at Trameve, where he handles some of the 11,500 sales they make each year. He had a 10-month course in mechanics in Majadahonda (Madrid), which allowed him to join the junkyard 15 years ago. “I have always loved the automotive industry. My original idea was not to work in administration, but with time I adjusted very well. The important thing was to join the labor market,” said Sangiao, who had a leg amputated at the femur 21 years ago. This man, who is from Pontevedra, Galicia, manages the deregistration of vehicles that are going to be broken up to use some of the parts that are still in good condition and turn them into spare parts. He also does the accounting for polluting waste like motor oil. “In the job interviews, we focus on what these people can do and not what they cannot. On their abilities, not on their disabilities,” said Penido, who has been at Trameve since 1997. Eight employees with disabilities have made the leap to conventional companies, the ultimate goal of this special employment center.
Repsol Foundation and Ilunion - E-waste
People with disabilities and vulnerable groups
A good destination for seemingly useless components.
The drawers at home are not the right place for old phones. Nor is the junkroom the place to store them. The Repsol Foundation and Ilunion created the company Recycling4all for the large-scale management of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste). During treatment, materials like iron, copper, aluminum, and rare earths are extracted, which can then be reused for other devices or other purposes. They are also working on expanding their activities to the recycling of photovoltaic solar panels.
The public can take any small device to an appliance store or dump any type of e-waste, large or small, at a collection point. Recycling4all not only promotes the circular economy but inclusive employment as well by creating employment opportunities for 111 people with disabilities, 66% of their workforce. They have 12 sites, two of which are waste treatment plants. The others are used for the temporary storage of e-waste.
The waste treatment plants are in Campo Real (Madrid) and La Bañeza (León). The second of these employs 60 people with disabilities (87% of the workforce) in a rural setting, where this group has greater difficulty in finding jobs.
Pedro Antonio Martín, CEO of Ilunion Reciclados, emphasized that Recycling4all has a support unit to help workers at any time and evaluate whether they need adjustments in their jobs so as to ensure their correct professional development. “We also take care of relationships with colleagues, even extrapolating our assistance to the family environment when necessary,” he said. “We do not want to waste these people’s talents. We all have to make an effort to bring them out,” he said.
Martín noted that accessibility and basic training are essential so that people with disabilities are not left behind with the arrival of unstoppable digitalization. “I am convinced that the value of people will always be needed,” he said. With business criteria based on sustainability but without ignoring profitability and its humanistic vision, this initiative by the Repsol Foundation and Ilunion is another new example of the inclusive modern circular economy.
Fundación Rubricatus - Textiles and services
People with disabilities and vulnerable groups
Another way of organizing a corporate convention or fair.
If the businesses of selling second-hand spare parts and of recovering electrical components offer classic examples of reuse, the work of Fundación Rubricatus in Prat de Llobregat (Barcelona) is even more innovative. They turn excess fabric from a multinational into tote bags (resistant, open-topped bags with long handles) and single-use earphones into lanyards (the cord on which the name tags worn by attendees at fairs and corporate events hang). Raúl Punzano, an industrial technician, is one of its managers. He is in charge of supervising the processes and implementing new inclusive circular economy initiatives.
Fundación Rubricatus employs 145 people, of whom 95 have an intellectual disability. They also manage a catering service and provide employees for the cloakroom and name tag check-out at events. “Waste creates opportunities. It is a nutrient, a raw material,” said Punzano. “We are a very up-to-date organization,” he explained. He repeats this phrase several times to remind people that the waste recovery activities that they are engaged in are the present because, if they are left for the future, it will be too late.
They offer training in dressmaking and pattern making– again, training– to turn remnants into finished products, to transform corporate conventions into sustainable events. “We rent out the lanyards that we have manufactured with used earphones,” said Punzano, who has a postgraduate degree in Circular Economy from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). In addition to the headsets being recovered, they are also reused through a rental system, not sales, and bring about reductions by saving on materials. When they can no longer be used, they are recycled. They accumulate R’s, an indicator of circularity. The Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge included the initiative of reusable lanyards on a list of 42 good circular economy practices.
Punzano is now focusing on food waste. The foundation prepares and delivers 150 meals a day to seniors with mobility issues in El Prat de Llobregat. The next step consists of reaching an agreement with Mercabarna for them to donate pieces of fruit and other foods that cannot be sold due to their appearance. A different circular economy case managed by the workers themselves. “We also want to create a reusable container that is called a “boc and roll”,” said this enthusiast, who is going to go on linking initiatives. He is referring to a long cloth bag, a way for children to take a sandwich (bocadillo, in Spanish) to school without needing to use a disposable wrapper each day.
ReutilizaK - Computing
Young people at risk of social exclusion
Before throwing it away, recondition it, and put it back into circulation.
The La Kalle association created the ReutilizaK initiative in two neighborhoods in Madrid to train young people who dropped out of school or recent migrants to Spain in how to recondition computers. The three-month qualification that they teach is called a microcomputer system technician. Large companies donate old equipment to this association, which adds memory or changes the battery, and then sells them at a low price to families with few resources or to NGOs.
Juan Flores, the coordinator of ReutilizaK, steps in to rescue computers that are going to the collection point, which turn into training and employment for “young people left behind by the education system or migrants with language difficulties who have just arrived”. The Association was created 35 years ago and operates in Vallecas and Villaverde. It has two young people who were hired for the equipment reconditioning department, helped by other student interns who have completed the training.
“These are mentored jobs,” explained Flores. They promote social skills, reactivate their motivation, and teach them employment skills in addition to technical capabilities. They prepare them to work for La Kalle or any conventional company. They give them back their self-esteem, where it all begins.
Published in El País