Difficulties in Development of Biogas Project
- May 22, 2021 9:20 pm GMT
When I initiated my capstone, my goal was to create a Bogota project to solve multiple problems. When developed, it focused on its probability due to policy and previous references. Since then, I have wanted to expand on the practical side using existing companies, marketing aspects, and current consumer habits. Unfortunately, the data used for the calculations in the project has since then been seriously outdated.
The project was divided into phases to manage the details of the project easily:
Phase 1: Legislation
Phase 2: Plastic-free pledge
Phase 3: Prototype biogas
Phase 4: Co-creation period
Phase 5: Implementation
Phase 6: Carbon economy
It has been more than a year, and I have encountered multiple problems in developing the project. Every time I want to expand on a phase, I find gaps in the proposal. These include:
Willingness for the population of Ciudad Bolivar to participate in the daily classification process: Even with the intentions for a circular economy, habits are hard to change. In this modern world, waste is discarded and not given a second thought. Due to its versatility and cheap production, plastic is everywhere from packaging to construction, textiles, consumer products, transportation, electrical and electronic, and industrial. It is one of the most challenging materials to get rid of, and biogas is highly dependent on the separation of biodegradable material from non-biodegradable material. It would not break down the plastic in the anaerobic digestion process unless it is bioplastic. Therefore, the willingness to participate in the separation of waste depends on classification habits, and it would highly affect phases 2 to 4.
Pushback from the plastic industry: Acoplasticos, the organization that represented companies in the plastics industry, has rejected the idea of the prohibition of the production and consumption of single-use plastics—stating that it would mean the disappearance of 40% of the national plastic industry and the loss of 100,000 jobs. This pushback makes it challenging to implement the plastic-free pledge.
Need for a Waste Management Plan: When I developed the Plastic Free Pledge, I was incredibly naive in thinking it was enough to reduce plastic use. I only focused on the residential use of plastic, and I did not consider the industries heavily dependent on plastic products day today. Not only that, I did not have into account electronic waste, textile waste, chemical waste, or medical waste. I did not consider the possibility of needing a disposal plan for products that are not straightforward.
How to measure waste diverted: Measuring waste diverted from a landfill is not a new concept. The commercial industry does it all the time—especially the construction industry, to achieve best practices or tax incentives to reduce waste for the city. But measuring residential trash diverted from landfills presented itself to be more difficult than I previously thought. Commercial buildings have the workforce, training, and equipment to do this calculation, while people in a household vary in knowledge, ability, and time. As a result, it makes it difficult to find baseline data for the prototype phase.
The pandemic has also spotlighted lack of access to resources, hidden epidemics, lack of local production, and the effect of pollution. My plan must be aware of these issues to design solutions to future-proof my project or include fail-safes for these issues not to overwhelm existing systems. The main ones are:
High demand for plastic products: With the pandemic, there has been a high demand for plastic products. Its growth has been due to the demand for essential products such as masks, gloves, and plastic packaging. As a result, demand for plastic medical products has gone up to three or four times than the previous years pre-2020. This has caused the ICIPC (Instituto de Capacitación e Investigación del Plástico y del Caucho), to launch the campaign “Plastics saves Lives”, to find solutions for the high demand of products during the pandemic.
Hunger: The pandemic has put the spotlight on the hidden epidemic of hunger. Millions of people can not access food due to economic resources. More than five million residents of Bogota depend on the informal economy, which is 70% of the population that were surviving with no income during quarantine.
Air quality: Air pollution has always been a concern for the public health of any city. It can cause health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and high blood pressure. But with the pandemic, has shown the impact of years of polluted air. Developing research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, among others, has demonstrated that air pollution is affecting COVID-19 mortality. Analyzing the coronavirus deaths across 120 cities in China and 66 regions of the epicenters of the virus, 78% of them occurred in the top five polluted areas. The District Secretary of Environment of Bogota is constantly monitoring the air quality of the city. It has an alert system, where it monitors the concentration of air pollutants and particles, such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. The color-coded alert system includes favorable (blue), moderate (green), regular (yellow), bad (orange), real bad (red), and dangerous (purple). During the administration of Mayor Peñalosa, he avoided 1,176,000 tons of carbon dioxide to contaminate the air by treating gases from the landfill Doña Juana. CO2 equivalent to the contamination from 450,000 vehicles. But even with these efforts, it is still not enough.
Health: Bogota has had 28% of the coronavirus cases in Colombia. Its responses have varied over time, from total lockdown to partial lockdown to curfews. The pandemic has shown that public health is vital for the economic health of a city. The more people are sick and vulnerable; there is less financial stability with less economic stability, there is more insecurity. It has also put a spotlight on mental health issues, domestic violence, and substance abuse. The stress of the uncertainty of when the pandemic will end, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety are some of the symptoms experienced. Not working due to sickness or mental health brings a lot of financial strain. Even with the multiple health campaigns and programs for access to healthcare by the District Secretary of Health of Bogota, it does not cover the financial side of a health emergency.
The need for more electricity: The pandemic has shown that many economies are too dependent on the global economy, importing and exporting goods and services. With the shutdowns and travel bans, the need to expand and strengthen the supply chain was evident with the food and medical shortages and the increased demand and insufficient supply. There needs to be stable access to electricity with increased production and manufacturing for the medical industry and the growth of the communications sector. In addition, working and learning from home has increased the need for faster internet. If the increased demand for electricity is insufficient, electric companies must put rationing in place.
Having this in mind, I have to do an addition to phase 1. It would concentrate on the local incentives and policies to promote a circular economy and expand the project. Phase 2 would have to be revised. A Waste Management Plan would replace a plastic-free pledge. The rest of the phases would have to focus on adding renewable technology to the existing grid, not only as an environmental strategy but an economic strategy to bring jobs to the city.
The reevaluation of my project has also shifted my perspective of the project from finding a solution to multiple problems to treating Bogota as a resource-rich city that can be environmentally friendly and economically viable. To reflect on this new perspective, I would also have to change the name of the project. The initial title is too limiting, and the new name would have to represent circular economy and renewable energy. Therefore, “Informal Settlements as Urban Laboratories for the Perfection of Biogas” will be changed to “ Bogota’s Waste to Resource Journey.”
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