Last November, Colombia’s Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development announced that it would launch the country’s first National Circular Economy Strategy. This initiative aims to transform the country’s economic and productive system, turning it into a pioneer for Latin America and the Caribbean in the transition towards a circular economy. 

Primary objectives include: the reuse of materials, resource flow efficiency and a significant increase in the rate of recycling and reuse of waste (from the current level of 8.7% to at least 17.9% by 2030). The goal for improvement in the correct treatment of urban waste has been set at 30% by 2022, compared with the current 17%. 

The plan, however, involves more than just waste management, even though that is the most obvious and urgent issue. In the document presented by the Colombian government, four indicators are taken into consideration as requiring action: first among them is the productivity of water, stuck at $18/m3, compared with the OECD average of $114/m3. The other three are land productivity, material-use intensity and energy intensity. The concrete and cement sector is undoubtedly the one that needs the most improvement in performance. Today, recovery and recycling are stuck at 2%, but the Colombian government believes they could potentially reach 50%. “To accompany the National Circular Economy Strategy, which is part of the development plan launched by the President, we are making a pledge for Colombia,” said Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez, in an official note. “With this pledge, we are telling Colombians that we will go above and beyond regulatory objectives, maintaining production levels while consuming less.”

The theme of waste management is still the overriding concern, considering that – according to data from the Department of National Planning – the use-life of landfills in 321 Colombian municipalities is set to end in five years. It will therefore be essential to promote entrepreneurship, generate added value for secondary raw materials and attract investment to relaunch new waste management and recycling systems. “What we are trying to do is to encourage businesses, consumers and other agents within the value chain to develop and implement new business models, transforming existing production and consumption systems. These actions will affect waste management, increase the efficient use of materials and create a shift towards more sustainable lifestyles for citizens,” stated Ricardo Lozano Picón, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, at the official presentation.

To implement a circular economy, the Ministry of the Environment will work collaboratively with the Ministries of Commerce, Housing, Education, Transport, Mining and Agriculture. Partners also include the confederation of trade unions in the productive sector, over 50 entrepreneurs and the academic sector. “Different parts of the government are acting together to face this issue. This synergy exists because we are aware of all the opportunities that a circular economy can offer the country,” said Minister Lozano in an official note.


Colombian Companies Invest in the Circular Economy

The desire to change the economic paradigm is not just present at the political level. Businesses want to become aligned with solutions that in Europe, for example, are already well-established. At a time when climate crisis and resource scarcity threaten the wellbeing of society, business-as-usual cannot have a future and has to be relegated to the history books. This idea seems to have been taken onboard by the Asociación Nacional de Empresarios de Colombia (ANDI), a national business association that recently enacted a plan to launch the circular economy in the country. The plan, Vision 30/30, requires participating companies to implement waste reduction processes, as well as to partially reuse waste and improve their treatment of resources like water. The first goal is to reach 30% of recycled waste in the next ten years, with a particular focus on the packaging sector.

Colombia also has numerous companies that are already active in the circular economy, especially in the construction sector. For ten years, GRECO (Granulados Reciclado de Colombia) has been treating and managing construction and demolition materials in a plant where they are repurposed as recycled aggregates for the construction sector. Another company, Pintuco, produces resins derived from polyurethane foam recycled from the construction sector. Terniùm, a multinational steel manufacturer, recycles 100% of the waste from its production processes. Finally, national fashion company Totto currently has an “Eco” range with backpacks, wallets and multi-use boxes made of Prat, a fabric derived from recycled PET bottles. 


There is Still a Need for More Awareness

The road ahead certainly looks long, especially considering the habits of Colombian consumers. According to data from Kantar, an international marketing consultancy and leader in ad-hoc market research, only 8% of families in Colombia are “eco-active”, meaning they make efforts to consider sustainability when purchasing products. 

The more striking figure, however, is that 68% are “eco-dismissers”, meaning that they have no interest in environmental issues and take no action. This could cause corporations that already operate in the circular economy sector to take a more cautious approach, because they might not receive an adequate response from the market. A clear sign that it is also necessary to raise awareness and change the cultural habits of consumers, because they too are part of the cycle that needs to become circular.