Friday, July 4, 2014

Use it Once and Throw it Out

El Tiempo reports, on the lower left, that Bogotá will host a sustainability conference, and on the upper right that Bogotá is expanding its landfill, named Doña Juana.
Does this make sense? Tossing
garbage into a 'Zero Garbage' truck.
I got a good sarcastic laugh the other day about this coincidence of headlines. On the lower left-hand side, El Tiempo reports that Bogotá is to host the Río + 20 conference on sustainable development. On the upper right: proof that Bogotá is not sustainable: it's expanding its dump, rather than reducing, reusing or recycling its garbage.

Garbage policy has marked Mayo Gustavo Petro's administration. Earlier this year, the procurador got Petro temporarily ousted because the mayor had supposedly endangered public health by mismanaging garbage collection. Now, there are fewer mountains of trash on the sidewalk - but the mountains of trash are piling up in the city's landfill, Doña Juana. Much of that material consists of packaging that was used once, but will fill the landfill for thousands of years. Other stuff could be reused, composted or recycled - but filling the landfill - if only the city bothered.

A Bogotá official boasted that the Rio + 20 conference is proof of the city's green policies.
A 'Zero Garbage' garbage truck, full of garbage.

I'd suggest that once the conference attendees see the city's enormous, smog-spewing traffic jams, they'll ask why the city has not instituted a traffic congestion charge or created high-occupancy vehicle lanes. If they take a whiff of the Rio Bogotá, they might ask why, despite plan after plan and multiple court orders, the river's still an open sewer. And, god forbid visitors should visit the Doña Juana landfill, because then they'd ask why Bogotá lacks an effective recycling program or policies to discourage the use of styrofoam, disposable bottles and other one-use landfill-packing materials.
The Petro administration's main contribution to revolutionizing Bogotá's garbage policy has been to write 'Zero Garbage' on the city's trucks, uniforms and even garbage bags.

According to an interview with a Dutch solid waste official, Holland recycles 80% of its waste and incinerates an additional 18% to generate energy. Bogotá's statistics are almost the opposite: it recycles only 3.9% of its solid waste, according to El Espectador.

The key to Holland's success, says the visiting official, is to make manufacturers and retailers financially responsible for their products' waste material.
A stuffed full 'Zero Garbage' trash bag.
A worker in a 'Zero Garbage' uniform collects garbage on Ave. Septima.

Plastic drink bottles, generally used just once and then thrown away, are filling up the city's landfill. These pop drinks aren't good for us or for the environment, but the city subsidizes their use by doing the manufacturers the favor of carrying them away and disposing them for free.

Why doesn't Bogotá tax their use, as some other cities have? What about a plastic bag tax or even a ban?

How much space will these stacks of plastic bottles occupy in the landfill?
Stacks of styrofoam-packaged lunches for sale in the Universidad Nacional. Tomorrow, the packages will be in the landfill, where they'll stay for a thousand years.
Some cities have prohibited styrofoam packaging, In Bogotá, it's ubiquitous.

Styrofoam packaging spills out of a trash can on La Candelaria's 'Environmental Axis' avenue.
Sacks of organic garbage wait for collection near the Parque Nacional. This stuff could all be composted - but don't expect it to be.
Trash cans by any other name. Labeled recycling bins in Parque de la Independencia.

And here's Bogotá recycling - no thanks to the city.

A man, likely a homeless drug addict, sifts thru trash on Plaza San Victorino for anything that's usable. 
A little while later, the area is cleaner.
This old man works every day along Ave. Septima, collecting cardboard and wood to resell.
He could teach the city father's a lesson.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Daniel Krohn said...

Things like these often leave me wondering what planet many Colombians live on. I think Colombians (especially the upper class) have completely subscribed themselves to this false narrative. Instead of confronting the problems, they hide behind a veil of wealth and prosperity, while at the same time denying most of the glaring social issues that continue to plague the country. A conference, like pretty much every other initiative in Bogota, is meaningless if they don't actually put these ideas into action. Colombians are seriously long and ideas and short on the know how in regards to translating these things into reality. Many of them have insulated themselves to such an extent, that they don't even have a realistic vision of what the reality of the situation in Bogota actually is. There is a pretty big disconnect in terms of Colombian perception and actual reality.

It's kind of sad if you think about it. Colombia is undergoing an unprecedented period of economic growth and prosperity, yet this hasn't translated into fixing the small things. There is a narrow window in terms of what Colombia can do before the inevitable economic downturn hits (improving transportation infrastructure, improving education, narrowing the social gap, etc). In my opinion, Colombia's economic resurgence, will be much to do about nothing, until they can figure out the basic things that functional and successful countries have already mastered; like not blocking intersections, standing in line and efficient labor practices.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your comment Daniel. I agree that there's a huge disconnect between expressed laws and policies and the reality on the street. But I don't think it's a class issue. Both rich and poor ignore the contradictions. The difference, however, is that the wealthy have the education and opportunity to recognize those contradictions, as well as the power to do something about them.