Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Sad State of Recycling in Bogotá

Is anybody picking this stuff up? A bin for organics in a Bogotá fruit and veggies market.
In most places, recycling has a save-the-world image. In Bogotá, unfortunately, it could be doing more harm than good. 

During recent months, bins labeled 'organics,' 'platics,' 'papers' etc have appeared in parks and markets throughout the city. Unfortunately, the system lacks one detail - nobody collects the stuff. I've heard multiple stories about neighborhoods separating their trash - only to see the collectors dump all the stuff into the same bin.

Take a look at these nicely-labeled bins in the National Park.
And at their contents:
See any difference? Neither does the trash collector. 

Bogotá does have a pilot recycling project, but it hasn't expanded. I understand that the material processing plant has had resistance from neighbors, who worry about odors and attracting homeless scavengers to their neighborhood.

What does get recycled in Bogotá?
Recyclables include manhole covers, which get pried up and sold to scrap dealers,
who melt them down to earn a few cents. The rest of us break our legs.
A sewer lid announces that it's non-recyclable.

The Monument to Life and Disarmament, above, in 2008,
and below, today, the doves having fled.
The 'Monument to Life and Disarmament,' in the Tercer Milenio Park was built in late 2008 out of the metal from thousands of weapons which were donated and melted down. When completed, the figures were carrying about a dozen doves, but today only a few are left. They were apparently torn off by scavengers who wanted to sell the metal, which perhaps turned back into weapons.  

Most of Bogotá's recycling is done by people like these, who live in riverside shacks and often drive horse carts. The scavenging recycles lots of materials and means income for many poor people. However, it also means trash from ripped-open trash bags scattered across sidewalks and streets. Last year, there was controversy when then-Pres. Alvaro Uribe's sons set up an industrial-scale recycling operation. Small-scale recyclers complained that the powerful young men would take away their livelihoods.
A recycler at work
Check out this guy's cart!
Pitch it in!
Lots of scavenged materials are sold in scrap shops like
this one in the Santa Fe neighborhood.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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