There are usually two things that I hear about Barranquilla when my friends visit the city; that it’s too hot to walk and that it’s dirty with trash scattered across roads and empty lots. I explain that it is the people that make Barranquilla a beautiful place to live, but it’s challenging to defend the amount of trash one sees. And to make things worse, recycling isn’t all that popular in the city.
According to a report by Barranquilla Como Vamos, the city generates 366,600 tons of trash per day and is only recycling 0.7% of the total. The cost to recycle collected trash is between $80,000 to $133,000 COP per ton. In 2004, 50,000 families (300,000 people) in Colombia lived off the income generated through recycling. Clearly, the city and country can do better, but that isn’t the case unfortunately.
It is not unusual to see people throw trash on the ground as they walk. Triple A provides trash cans on almost every corner, but they seem very small. They remind me of bathroom trash cans. Yes, they meet the need, but it really doesn’t inspire people to throw stuff away.
To understand Barranquilla’s lack of recycling programs, one has to learn the country’s recycling history. During the 1970’s, the act of recycling was stigmatized and against the law. It was a job worked primarily by drug addicts and criminals.
During the 80’s, associations were created with the goal of landing international support. The 1990’s brought changes to the Colombian law (Ley 99 de 1993; Ley 142 de 1994) but attempts to move forward failed. Recyclers were finally recognized with an official job in decreto 1713 in 2002.
Even though some progress has been made towards recycling, there still lacks education and promotion. The city has a young start-up company who’s leading the way and are optimistic about cleaning-up Barranquilla called Life 2 Pet. Carlos Saucedo, a Universidad del Norte graduate, started his company in 2015 with a goal to clean up the city and region. They buy from small businesses to recycle and they dispose the rest through environment-friendly processes. They are an important player in the recycling chain (Recicladores de Oficio).
The price list below can give you an idea of what one can make from recylcing the following items:
It’s time for everyone living in the city to change their thoughts on recycling. The city should hire the recicladores that you see at night digging through bags for recyclable items. I spoke to one young reciclador who told me that he works close to 24 hours a day with little rest. Why doesn’t the city hire and train them to be on the front lines of this new green economy? They can serve as our recycling ambassadors who motivate the public to recycle more often.
Also, small start-up businesses like Life2PET are leading the way in this new economy, why doesn’t the city government team up with them and nonprofit organizations to create initiatives for recycling? We all should be doing our part to recycle our trash at home. Barranquilla could become a more beautiful city if we collectively make an effort to clean it up.