I just completed a weekly visit to Bogota, Colombia. I visited Bogota, Colombia’s capital, for a masterclass that was organised by ISWA’s National Member Association Andina Dos Residuos. The concept and the program of the masterclass can be found here and I feel obliged to thanks the sponsor of the event Grupo Sala (and of course the CEO Humberto Rodriguez) as well as the brain behind the event, Magda Carolina Correal, who runs MAG Consultoria. I spent two wonderful intensive days with roughly 80 participants discussing the future of waste management, the fourth industrial revolution and how waste management plans must be conceptualised in order to reflect the disruption we already live. But besides sharing my experiences, I also learn a lot from them and from meetings with the Colombian authorities.
A lot of my students were trying to identify proper ways and practical approaches to deal with the informal recyclers. Waste pickers have been officially recognised in Colombia as stakeholders, thus there are several on-going efforts to integrate them in the local waste management and resource recovery plans. My suggestion: before anything else try to understand the informal recyclers ecosystem in details, try to identify their resource recovery role, their interface with the formal system and above all, the way they are organised and structured. A key-output of the masterclass was that the importance of economic tools and analysis in planning must be seriously upgraded, especially when there are several areas that are ready to be upgraded involving waste treatment technologies. The discussion on the history of waste management highlighted the importance of health protection and the necessity to close the dumpsites as a cornerstone of each and every planning effort. The new and still unimaginable opportunities that are brought by the fourth industrial revolution created a lot of questions as well as hopes, especially for their expected social impacts. Last but not least, several tips for successful planning were discussed, based on real case studies and experiences.
I was lucky enough to be there at the same day that the peace agreement with FARC was announced. I felt the waves of hope and the hesitations for potential barriers to the agreement that most of the people I talked with shared with me. Especially young people are feeling that a new chapter for the country is realistic and may soon open, while other older and more experienced in politics were afraid that once again we will have paper promises.
I met government officers and I realised that Colombia is trying to shape a Circular Economy policy initiative, while at the same time it is ready to discuss seriously incentives for a shift towards higher recycling and recovery rates and waste treatment. We held a great discussion on Circular Economy and its potential for the developing world.
I was positively surprised when I visited Grupo Sala’s Tecniamsa hazardous waste management park, few kilometres away from Bogota, where I found a sophisticated hazardous waste incinerator much better than many EU facilities and with better health and safety procedures!
I learnt great news and initiatives regarding the country’s tariff system on waste management – I also felt the agony of many people regarding the proper waste management solutions for the poorer 20% of the country and especially for the areas of indigenous populations.
I learnt about a new start-up company that creates building blocks from recycled plastics (soon, I will write more)!
My understanding is that Colombia is in a shift. Within next years there is a great potential for the upgrade of the waste management sector and the delivery of high-level environmental and health protection, together with important steps in resource recovery. This is a huge challenge in which Association Andina Dos Residuos will definitely contribute a lot, together with other major stakeholders.
I must say that after sharing ideas, know-how, feelings and some drinks with friends and colleagues, I am coming back amazed by this wonderful country and its people. Colombia is in a shift and its most important asset is its dynamic and well-educated new generation that has the power to reshape the country. Let’s hope they will do it.