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Biogas Development in Colombia: Phase 2 Plastic Free Pledge 

We live in a society where a linear economy is a norm. Where there is the extraction of resources, products are produced and then disposed of as waste. The linear economy is a broken form. This throwaway system has caused significant environmental and health issues, such as: 

 

  • The toxic waste buildup can contaminate groundwater, damage crops, and cause serious health problems.
  • Landfills produce methane gas that can cause significant damage to our ecosystem and chronic and terminal diseases.
  • Dust, pollution, and particulate matter are causing respiratory problems to residents nearby.
  • Nearby residents have to deal with bad odors and insect infestations. 

 

Colombia is in a waste crisis, where 7.5% of the country’s 158 landfills are in full capacity, and 15% only have three more years. The National Department of Planning estimates that in 10 years there will be a 20% increase in waste generation. As a result, the government has responded with steps to align the public and private sector with a circular economy, where waste rotate in a productive cycle. The Ministry of Environment has demonstrated that reducing the waste sent to landfills and using the biogas generated can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

 

A circular economy has a 3R approach of “reduce, reuse and recycle.” It starts by:

 

  • Using less material where possible reducing material extraction. 
  • Products are made from reused parts and materials. 
  • And after discarding a product, materials and parts are recycled. 

 

If the goal is to use biogas, the 3R approach is not enough, three more R’s need to be added “review, refuse and regenerate.” 

 

That is where the Plastic Free Pledge comes into play. The reduction of waste sent to the landfill aligns with the decline in the use of plastic. The reduction facilitates separating biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste. According to the National Department of Planning, only 17% of plastic recycled due to poor management and the overwhelming increase in waste. 

 

The Pledge is to hold everyone accountable for the reduction and the utilization of biodegradable waste. The purpose is to measure progress, face the challenges of removing single-use plastic off the market, and to create marketable products from existing recycled or upcycled products from single-use plastics. It consists of 6 steps: 

 

1. Review: This step includes doing a more thorough audit of plastic use to use as a baseline. At the moment, the Ministry of Environment has generic numbers such as: 

 

  • 1,250,000 tonnes of plastic consumed per year. 
  • 74% of packaging ends up in landfills.
  • Each Colombian disposes of 53 lbs of plastic every year. 

 

The objective is to breakdown plastic use into city and town usage, industry, and residential. That way, it is easier to hit measurable goals and answer the following questions: 

  • What industries produce and consume single plastics?
  • How much does it cost the city to dispose of these plastics? Buried, incinerate, or recycle.
  • What companies have the best sustainable practices?
  • What is the real cost of a product? (Life cycle cost analysis) 

 

2. Refuse: This step consists of using legislation to refuse the usage of single-use plastics. At the moment, the law available for plastic use reduction is the 668 Resolution, passed April 28, 2016. It forbids the circulation of plastic bags smaller than 30x30 cm, and the use of any bag bigger are taxed to discourage use. 

 

Colombia has the goal to forbid the fabrication, importation, sale, and distribution of single-use plastics by 2030. By January 1, 2030, there will be no single-use plastics. Only plastics for medical use, to conserve hazardous chemicals and balloons for industrial use. At the moment, it has reduced plastic bag consumption by 53% by implementing a plastic bag tax, but still has a long way to go to hit their goals. 

 

3. Reduce: For the reduction of plastic use, companies must be incentivized by the government. Give tax reductions to companies that use biodegradable packaging other than plastics, and promote sustainable single-use products.

   

4. Reuse: Reusing packaging is nothing new in Colombia. A liter of Soda is sold and distributed in glass bottles and returned to the vender after use. It saves time, energy, and resources and does away with the need for waste disposal or recycling. This system needs to expand into daily household products. An example of this is Loop, an e-commerce solution, where you can shop for leading brands, with reimagined reusable packaging.  

 

5. Recycle: Recycling consists of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. It is not financially feasible to recycle all plastics. In this case, instead of making more containers or another packaging, why not use it for construction materials to build homes or to build roads. There are various companies around the world with innovative ideas on how to use these plastics: 

 

  • Conceptos Plasticos: A Colombian company founded by Oscar Mendez, uses recycled plastics to make lego-like blocks to build affordable housing. Calculating the cost of a house is done by kilo of processed plastic, where a 40 m2 home (430 sqft) costs $5,000 US. It has calculated that the daily plastic sent to landfill, can produce 100 houses. Also, if only 2% of the plastic produced in the world were to be recycled into housing, Latin America’s Housing deficit will disappear in 10 years.
  • MacRebur: This start-up in Scotland replaces the bitumen, that binds an asphalt mixture with pellets made with household, commercial, and agricultural plastic waste.   
  • Plastic Roads: KWS, a VolkerWessels company, Wavin and Total are working on the development of a prefabricated modular and hollow road structure based on recycled plastics. Where the space in the modular can be used for the transit of cables and pipes, preventing excavation damage, this design makes the construction and maintenance faster, simpler, and efficient. 

 

In Colombia, more than 20% of the city’s urban land are informal settlements, and there is an extreme housing deficit. Recycling plastics into construction materials are an ideal solution. Not only does it promote the circular economy, but it reduces substantially construction costs for new development. 

 

6. Regenerate: Biodegradable material can be converted into biogas to feed the Colombian electrical grid or gas infrastructure, diversifying the energy architecture. Cities and towns, instead of struggling to manage its waste, can have access to affordable, secure, and sustainable energy. A reliable source of energy is a crucial component of economic growth and development.

 

Currently, biogas is produced by using the decomposition of urban waste for the production of electrical energy in the landfill Doña Juana, reducing 800,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) per year.

Niyireth  Torres's picture

Thank Niyireth for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 26, 2019 1:32 pm GMT

Really informative, thanks Niyireth. I wouldn't have thought to connect the plastics crisis with biogas, but it looks like there's a lot of opportunity here. 

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