Eco Profile: Colombia

This week it’s time to look at Colombia’s practices with regard to all things environmental!

The Facts

  • Contains 40,000 – 50,000 plant species. This is around 15% of all those found in the world.
  • According to the United Nations Environment Program, the conflicts within the country ‘has had several negative impacts on the environment’. Natural resources were exploited, resulting in environmental destruction.
  • Colombia is a rather large country. It is just over 4 times the size of the humble UK. For this reason, residents generally move around the country in of two ways: bus or plane (there is no train system), the former certainly more eco-friendly than the latter. 

Energy Sources

65% of Colombia’s electricity grid is supplied by hydro-electric power. However, many have pointed out that there is great potential for further renewable sources of energy to power the country – indeed, some have suggested that harnessing wind power would be enough to meet the entire country’s energy needs.

Plastic?

At the beginning of 2017, the Colombian government banned single use bags (less than 30x30cm in size). Then in July of that same year, they introduced a tax on all single use plastic bags: 1US cent/20 Colombian pesos per bag. The plan is to increase said tax by 50% annually in order to deter consumers further.

Programs

While not a government program, Conceptos Plásticos of Bogotá is utilising plastic waste in a rather circular way. They crush and melt plastic waste to then produce ‘lego-like bricks’, which are then used to build new homes

“If we recycled just 2% of all the world’s discarded plastic we could easily solve the housing shortage across Latin America in just 10 years with this scheme”

Oscar Mendez, co-founder of Conceptos Plasticos 

The plastic bricks withstand earthquakes, are easy to slot together and have high levels of insulation. It also costs a fraction of the price and time of building the average home.

Meanwhile, the Green Corridor project in Medellin has already been improving the state of the city. Medellín’s local authorities took 30 road and waterway verges and turned them into a ‘green paradise’ which counter-acted the effects of the heat island effect. The city has seen a 2°C reduction.

Goals

In 2016 the country is approached UN Environment for support in developing environmental practices as part of the peace agenda. As of yet, I’m struggling to find much news on their progress, but it is still early days.

A Traveller’s (very small, very unreliable) Snapshot:

+ A nature rich country which, like Costa Rica, has a strong focus on separation of waste and recycling with some incredibly inspiring practices (albeit small and grass-roots level)

+ I visited four of Colombia’s main cities during my time there, and I’ll be honest: I was pleasantly surprised at the consistent cleanliness of streets, despite the size of the country and the irregularities which can come with that. However, I did feel – in my tiny, snapshot view of Colombia – that recycling seemed to take more precedence in the seaside areas than the metropolitan locations I visited. 

+ Cartagena was, for me, my favourite Colombian city. It wasn’t just the abundance of painted colour, but the mass of flora which was festooned across the whole of the old town and Getsemani: nature is very much a part of the city.

+ / – Visiting Islote – the world’s most densely populated island – was simultaneously awe-inspiring and saddening. It’s shorelines, whilst scattered with conch shells, were also covered in countless scraggly bits of plastic fishing net, bottles and single use toiletry packaging. That hit me hard: how I had been swimming with beautiful starfish one moment, and in the next I was watching, not even 1km away,  as a plastic coke bottle was bobbing along the shoreline. Recycle, reuse or simply don’t buy at all!

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