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  • Cristian Cuta Gómez

Circular Economy Initiatives in Colombia

Stepping into the spotlight of sustainability, Colombia is pioneering an impressive stride towards a future powered by the principles of the Circular Economy (CE). The nation is orchestrating its transformation with a thoughtful blend of policy, innovation, and grassroots initiatives. After joining the OECD, Colombia has made significant strides, and is crafting a green legacy through five key spheres of change which this article explores - a National Circular Economy Strategy, fostering circular business incubators, advancing robust waste management initiatives, promoting sustainable agriculture, and endorsing circular tourism. However, this journey towards circularity is a race against time. Colombia is ambitiously striving to be among the top three most competitive economies in Latin America by 2030, making every step towards achieving its CE goals crucial. As the world watches, this dynamic nation is proving that environmental responsibility and long-term economic growth can indeed walk hand in hand.

1. National Circular Economy Strategy

Colombia’s National Circular Economy Strategy is a government-led initiative to promote long-term economic growth and address environmental issues by implementing CE principles. The strategy, which was launched in 2020, provides a framework for implementing CE practices across various sectors of the economy, while also recognising the importance of stakeholder engagement and collaboration to achieve its goals. As a result, the strategy encourages participation in CE implementation by government agencies, the private sector, academia, civil society, and citizens. The following are the primary goals:

· Reduce waste generation and promote sustainable waste management practices

· Increase resource efficiency and promote sustainable production and consumption patterns

· Promote eco-design and circular business models

· Promote circular procurement practices

· Promote extended producer responsibility (EPR) and sustainable supply chain management

The plan calls for a variety of actions to accomplish these goals, including developing CE-friendly policies and regulations, encouraging the creation of circular business models and supporting circular entrepreneurs, promoting the use of eco-design principles in the creation of products and business processes, incorporating circular procurement practises into public procurement procedures, and establishing EPR schemes for priority products like electronic waste, packaging and batteries.

2. Circular Business Incubators

The creation of circular business models is supported by initiatives that offer resources to entrepreneurs and start-ups to aid in the establishment and expansion of their companies. By encouraging the adoption of CE principles by businesses, these incubators hope to foster innovation. The following are a few examples of circular business incubators:

Circular Economy Lab: This CE incubator was established by Colombia's Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The goal of the incubator is to assist start-ups and business owners in creating and implementing circular business models. It enables networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and gives them access to funding, mentorship, and training.

Red Cluster Colombia: The Colombian Confederation of Chambers of Commerce (CONFECAMARAS) established this incubator for CE. Through mentoring, education, and financial resources, the incubator helps start-ups and business owners create circular business models. Additionally, it makes it easier for business owners and investors to connect, fostering the expansion of the CE.

Circular Valley: This is a CE incubator that the city of Medellin established in collaboration with business and academia. Entrepreneurs and start-ups can develop and implement circular business models with the help of the incubator's resources and assistance. Additionally, it promotes networking and collaborative opportunities for circular entrepreneurs, researchers, and other stakeholders.

3. Waste Management Initiatives

Colombia has put in place several waste management initiatives to lower waste production. Here are a few initiatives to note:

Waste-to-Energy Plants: In addition to processing municipal solid waste, this project also produces electricity. One such facility, in the city of Bogotá, processes more than 1,200 tonnes of waste each day, minimising the need for landfill space and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. To create biogas and electricity, the plant combines anaerobic digestion and incineration.

Electronic Waste Management: By encouraging proper disposal and recycling of electronic waste, the National System of Electronic Waste Management seeks to lessen the impact of electronic waste on the environment. The programme calls for the construction of collection facilities and the adoption of environmentally friendly procedures for the recycling of electronic waste.

Plastic Waste Management: To lessen plastic pollution, Colombia has implemented a programme to manage plastic waste. The programme includes a ban on single-use plastics as well as the introduction of a deposit system for plastic bottles. The programme also encourages the recycling of plastic waste and the use of biodegradable plastics.

Composting: Colombia has implemented several programmes to encourage composting and lower the production of organic waste. The "Más compost, menos basura" programme, which encourages the composting of organic waste in public parks, is one such initiative. The programme entails the placement of compost bins and the giving of composting instructions to park guests.

Landfill Mining: Recovering valuable materials from landfills while lowering waste production are the goals. Excavation of landfills and the recovery of items including metals, plastics, and glass are part of the programme. The reuse or recycling of recovered materials reduces waste production and fosters circularity.

4. Sustainable Agriculture

The term "sustainable agriculture" refers to agricultural methods that support social responsibility, economic viability, and environmental sustainability. The following are some of the initiatives that Colombia has put in place to encourage sustainable agriculture.

Agroforestry: Agroforestry is a sustainable farming method that involves combining crops and trees on the same piece of land. This method encourages soil preservation, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. Agroforestry is encouraged in Colombia through some initiatives, such as the "Sembrando Vida" programme, which aims to repair degraded land and advance sustainable agriculture.

Organic Farming: Compost and biological pest management are two examples of natural inputs that can be used in organic farming as a sustainable agricultural strategy. Biodiversity, soil health, and chemical contamination are all enhanced by organic farming. The National Organic Agriculture Plan and the Colombian Organic Agriculture Network are two of the several measures that Colombia has put in place to support organic farming.

Conservation Agriculture: Conservation agriculture is a sustainable agricultural practice that promotes minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation, and cover cropping. This method improves soil health, lessens erosive processes, and boosts soil carbon sequestration. Conservation agriculture is supported in Colombia through several programmes, such as the "Conservation Agriculture for Smallholders" programme, which attempts to encourage sustainable farming methods among small-scale farmers.

Sustainable Livestock Production: Implementing strategies to improve farmer livelihoods, protect the environment, and advance animal welfare are all part of sustainable livestock production. The "Sustainable Livestock Production" project, which aims to encourage the adoption of sustainable livestock techniques among small-scale farmers, is one of many measures Colombia has put into place to promote sustainable livestock production.

Climate-Smart Agriculture: Climate-smart agriculture is a sustainable farming method that increases climate change adaptability and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. The "Climate-Smart Agriculture" project, which aims to promote sustainable agricultural techniques that are climate change-adapted, is one of several projects in Colombia that promote climate-smart agriculture.

5. Circular Tourism

To avoid waste, protect natural resources, and aid local communities, circular tourism advocates sustainable and responsible travel practices. While offering tourists genuine and engaging experiences, circular tourism seeks to have a positive effect on the environment and local people. The following are some efforts in Colombia that support circular tourism:

Ecotourism: Colombia is a country with abundant natural resources and diverse ecosystems. Ecotourism initiatives aim to promote responsible tourism practices that preserve natural resources and promote conservation efforts. For example, the Tayrona National Natural Park in Santa Marta offers sustainable tourism experiences that allow visitors to explore the park's biodiversity while minimizing their environmental impact.

Community-Based Tourism: Community-based tourism initiatives aim to support local communities by promoting cultural exchange and offering visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in local cultures. For example, in the coffee region of Colombia, visitors can stay in local farms and participate in coffee production processes, supporting local economies and learning about traditional farming practices.

Sustainable Accommodations: Many hotels and accommodations in Colombia have implemented sustainable practices, such as using renewable energy sources, reducing water consumption, and implementing waste management strategies. For example, the Playa Koralia eco-resort in the Tayrona region uses solar panels to generate electricity and collects rainwater for use in the hotel's gardens.

Sustainable Transportation: Circular tourism in Colombia also promotes sustainable transportation practices. For example, visitors can use public transportation or bike-sharing systems instead of private cars to reduce their carbon footprint. Additionally, some tour operators offer electric bike tours, promoting sustainable transportation options while also allowing visitors to explore the city.

Waste Management: Circular tourism in Colombia also includes waste management practices. For example, some tour operators provide reusable water bottles and encourage visitors to bring reusable bags to reduce single-use plastic waste. Additionally, some accommodations and restaurants have implemented waste management strategies, such as composting and recycling, to reduce their environmental impact.

To promote sustainable economic growth and address environmental issues, Colombia is working hard to advance the ideas of the CE. These initiatives are gradually assisting the nation's efforts to encourage innovation, lessen waste creation, and support sustainable production and consumption practices.

In conclusion, Colombia is making considerable strides in implementing the principles of the CE across various sectors. The nation is strategically leveraging policy, innovation, and grassroots initiatives to drive this transformation, with significant efforts concentrated on five key areas: a National Circular Economy Strategy, circular business incubators, waste management initiatives, sustainable agriculture, and circular tourism. Despite the challenges and the ambitious target to rank among the top three most competitive economies in Latin America by 2030, Colombia's consistent push towards circularity demonstrates a powerful synergy between environmental responsibility and long-term economic growth. However, the journey to full circularity is still underway and requires persistent efforts, especially from the National Government and the Ministry of the Environment, to realize the established goals.


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