May 17, 2021  

The PepsiCo associate working to boost recycling in Latin America

Gaby de la Garza has spent years making recycling more sustainable and improving communities in the process. Here’s how her latest initiative does just that.

It was while she was attending university in Monterrey, Mexico that Gaby de la Garza first realized she wanted to pursue a purpose-driven career. She’d volunteered to tutor people living in remote areas who didn’t have access to higher education — and discovered how her work could make a difference.

“I saw how I could help people achieve their goals, and it changed my life and the course of my career,” she says. “I realized I could have a huge impact on the lives of people.”

Over the course of Gaby’s 13-year career at PepsiCo, she’s had the opportunity to develop programs that channel that purpose to a degree that would impress her younger self. Based in Miami, the Senior Director of Corporate Affairs, Citizenship & Sustainability for Latin America has worked to drive social change via a breadth of social impact initiatives that aim to replenish water to at-risk aquifers, empower women entrepreneurs, provide access to nutrition for low income communities, and aid small businesses in recovering during COVID-19.

Gaby is especially passionate about projects centered around recycling. “Latin America has some of the lowest recycling rates in the world, with the exception of Mexico,” she explains. “In addition, several countries in the region lack recycling infrastructure, so many people do not have access to recycling programs.” Working with those who are involved at every stage of the recycling process will drive change by creating sustainable ways to prevent plastics from becoming waste, Gaby explains.

In order to help strengthen local recycling rates, she’s been coordinating with local Corporate Affairs teams to lead recycling programs since 2008. The latest is Recycling with Purpose, an initiative which piloted in Peru in 2019 and is rolling out in Guatemala later this month, with expansions planned in Brazil and Colombia by the end of the year. The program is a three-pronged effort aimed at consumers, grassroots recyclers and local bottle manufacturers. It starts with offering consumers incentives to recycle. “If consumers do not separate materials at their homes, then it's going to be much more difficult for recyclables to be returned. So we started thinking: How do we involve the consumers?” Gaby and Sylvia Desmaison, Associate Manage of Corporate Affairs for Latin America Beverages, developed a plan: offer rewards and incentives in the form of points that can be redeemed for tickets to concerts and football matches or restaurant discounts.

After consumers have deposited their bottles at collection sites, they’re gathered by grassroots recyclers. Gaby explains that there are millions of individual recyclers throughout Latin America who separate recycling from trash and sell it. “A lot of my motivation is around creating a system where we can help grassroots recyclers improve their quality of life and income,” she says. Recycling with Purpose establishes partnerships with NGOs and municipalities to offer grassroots recyclers equipment and financial training, and often help them become formal businesses. “So much has happened at a policy level that we’ve become part of the solution,” she says.

Gaby in front of a recycling transport vehicle PepsiCo provides grassroots recyclers in Peru.

Gaby in front of a recycling transport vehicle PepsiCo provides grassroots recyclers in Peru.

Thanks to connections Gaby and her team have created with local NGOs, grassroots recyclers now have access to centers that purchase plastics and transform it into new products or bottles. This final step of Recycling with Purpose helps to prevent recycled plastics from going to waste. Gaby explains, “Helping to build these partnerships with the manufacturers is a crucial element.” And the connection to the manufacturers gives grassroots recyclers a source of income.

Looking for ways to improve others’ situations is a sort of guiding principle for Gaby. “I believe everything good you put out in the world comes back to you, so I apply that thinking to everything I do,” she says. This philosophy comes through in her passion for acting with integrity in her role. “For me, acting with integrity means always doing the right thing,” Gaby says. “It's about doing right for grassroots recyclers and for our communities.”

For me, acting with integrity means always doing the right thing. It's about doing right for grassroots recyclers and for our communities.

Next on Gaby’s agenda: continuing to find ways PepsiCo can facilitate recycling efforts even further. “We are looking at ways to reduce the materials that we use in packaging, how to make all packaging 100% recyclable, and working with our bottlers to insert recycled content into our packaging,” she explains. “I’m really excited to see how far we can go.”