Latin America Joins Global Race To Score 'Zero Waste'
Activists in Colombia are working with public and private entities, offline and online, to reduce and recycle every ounce of solid waste produced.
BOGOTÁ — The world has so far produced over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, of which 91% has not been recycled. Studies suggest our drinking water is already polluted with plastic particles. Meanwhile, people worldwide generate 1.9 billion tons of solid waste a year, 70% of which is sent to dumps, 19% recycled or recovered and 11%, turned into energy, according to Waste Atlas, an online map of global waste management.
These are alarming figures and recycling campaigns have taken off, largely led by European countries. At the same time, another initiative winning momentum worldwide, dubbed Zero Waste, seeks to curb waste production at its source and redefine trash as raw material, fit for reuse in economic production and ecological cycles. It is a reaction to the vast amounts of trash sent to landfills or burned every day, and to the environmental harm done by such a "traditional" approach.
Reduce, reuse, recycle...
Closer to home, data gathered by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Pan American Health Organization and the Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, indicate that Latin Americans generate 0.63 kilograms of solid domestic waste per person each day.
Colombia is joining the Zero Waste initiative with its own project and NGO, Basura Cero Colombia, which director Sandra Pinzón says is driven by a shift toward a more responsible consumer culture. First launched a decade ago, it works today with public and private enterprises to bring about the implementation of the three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — in all their operations.
It's a holistic program on trash management that follows five strategic axes: Full project management, Zero Waste Alliance certification system (ICONTEC), environmental training and education programs, Eco events, and Eco marketing. It also works with several universities including Bogotá"s prestigious Pontifical Javeriana University, "to exchange know-how, and implement academic and research projects in the circular economy and integrated solid waste management (ISWM)," says its head of projects, Diego Romero.
Poverty stricken neighborhood lined with waste in Bogotá, Colombia — Photo: C64-92/Flickr
These collaborative pacts have now brought more than 20,000 Colombians into programs that are gradually creating a more sustainable society. The initiative has managed to cut solid waste production by 12,600 kilograms, mostly through the elimination of non-reusable items from household purchases. This followed models of circular economy and industrial ecology that allow bodies to implement reduction, reuse and waste exploitation strategies.
In the framework of such strategies, says Sandra Pinzón, official Zero Waste certification becomes a means by which organizations can analyze the life cycle of trash, reduce disposal risks and work on constant improvement through the four steps of "planning, doing, verification and action."