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It tends to be the case that going green is one of the last things countries concern themselves with on the route to ‘development’.

Environmental issues are usually an afterthought as states strive to boost their economies. This can be particularly damaging for countries rich in natural resources such as Colombia. In this regard, it’s generally not the locals doing harm (largely down to the fact that indigenous industries don’t have the capacity to exploit these resources to their maximum potential). It’s usually powerful multinationals, with the connivance of officials and politicians on the ground albeit.

Litter in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, Colombia.

Um, beautiful Buenaventura: Spot the disposables. You’ll find litter black spots like this all over Colombia.

However, in terms of day-to-day waste management and a desire to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, the practices of many Colombians leave a lot to be desired. This can’t really be blamed on ‘evil’, foreign companies. No, the problem lies with the locals on this one.

You see, across the board there is a big love affair with using not-very-environmentally-friendly disposable plastic products for a whole range of things.

Plastic panaderías
Take our beloved panaderías. While most of these establishments, even the most basic ones, have porcelain cups available for public use, the preference for a large number of sit-in customers seems to be a throwaway plastic one, accompanied with a little plastic straw for stirring.

One reason for this, so it goes anyway, is related to hygiene. The thought of using a cup that some stranger drank out of beforehand is repugnant to many. It doesn’t matter if it’s been washed. (When you consider the fear-of-the-hot-seat syndrome, this kind of thinking isn’t all that surprising.)

In similar fashion, you’ll be hard-pressed to get an actual glass ‘glass’ with your beer in a standard tienda. A plastic one is what you’ll be given if you don’t want to drink directly out of the bottle. In mitigation on this one, most people do seem to drink directly from the bottle, thankfully.

Of course, the big problem with most of these disposables, especially the favoured plastic ones here, is that recycling is not an option. Yet, having them neatly collected and stored at waste facilities would at least, in theory anyway, prevent them from clogging up drains and being a general eyesore.

However, a not-always-reliable waste collection service coupled with a penchant for individuals to recklessly litter plays against this.

Pay your way
Things aren’t much better when it comes to plastic bag use, nay the ridiculous overuse of them. It’s still the case in many stores to put almost every item you purchase into its own plastic bag.

Now it must be said that with the coming of new, discount supermarkets such as Ara, D1 and Justo & Bueno and their policy to charge for using plastic bags, this is slowly changing in some quarters. Many others could do with following suit.

This plastic-bag charge in the stores mentioned and the subsequent behaviour change from shoppers to bring their own reusable bags shows, as it does in almost every other sphere, that money talks.

So how about panaderías and the like charging people more for wanting their drinks or whatever in disposables (in a similar fashion to our idea to charge people more if they want sugar with their drink)? It’s likely there’d be a quick change to people either using the in-shop china or bringing their own reusable cups (if they’re that pernickety about hygiene).

A bit of a carrot-and-stick approach to get people to clean up their act.
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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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