Supporting the transition to a circular economy in Colombia

Project description

Title: Green jobs in the circular economy
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Colombia
Lead executing agency: Colombian Presidential Agency of International Cooperation (APC-Colombia)
Overall term: 2019 to 2023

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Steady economic growth in the last decade has increased prosperity in Colombia, therefore boosting consumption too. However, this has been accompanied by a growing amount of waste. Most of the waste collected from urban areas is disposed of in properly managed landfill sites, although these are increasingly reaching their limits in larger cities. Waste disposal is usually carried out by private operators.

For decades, however, the task of collecting and separating out recyclables such as plastics, glass and cardboard has been performed by an army of some 47,000 waste-pickers. Due to the informal nature of their work, the Constitutional Court of Colombia has recognised them as a particularly disadvantaged group. A five-year strategy has been adopted to gradually formalise their status, regulate their activities and therefore remove the social stigma associated with their work. This will benefit women in particular.

In addition, the country’s National Circular Economy Strategy ushers in a transition from the current one-way system of resource use to a circular model. This means recycling raw materials instead of incinerating them or sending them to landfill. Putting the strategy into practice will require intensive collaboration between the state, the private sector and civil society, for example to identify innovative business models in the recycling industry and change consumer behaviour. Another equally important goal is to permanently and cost-effectively integrate the country’s waste-pickers into the circular economy.

The project supports this transition and helps its Colombian partners deal with the many social, economic and environmental challenges involved.


Selected metropolitan areas have improved waste recycling with the aid of circular economy strategies.



The project works with its Colombian partners in three areas:

  1. Boosting the recycling of specific waste in the focus cities.
    The goal is to increase the recycling rate by 10 per cent in Bogotá and 15 per cent in Cúcuta. To achieve this, the project works with private companies, which are investing in four business models for recycling certain waste products. The public administration and private sector receive support in implementing local and inclusive circular economy strategies that raise awareness among consumers and businesses.
  2. Creating an enabling environment at national level for those involved in the circular economy strategy.
    The project supports the Ministry of Housing, City and Territory and Ministry of Environment in compiling a national waste catalogue. Discussions involve the state, companies and civil society. The project is also preparing a handbook on standardising processes for collecting and evaluating waste-related data, including greenhouse gas emissions in the waste sector. In addition, a digital waste monitoring system is to be developed for the public administration. This will enable cities and districts to report every six months on the type and amount of waste that has been collected and document action taken for disposal and recycling.
  3. Improving the range of training measures focusing on the circular economy.
    Two training programmes are planned for city and district administrations and the private sector. The programmes support the implementation of the circular economy strategy. The project is also planning to carry out two training programmes for waste-pickers and their associations. Formalisation and business management are just two of the topics that they will cover. The programmes will be piloted in Bogotá and Cúcuta. The aim of these measures is to integrate 1,500 waste-pickers working on an informal basis into the formal recycling structures. Women are to account for at least 30 per cent of this total.

Additional information