7 environmentally-friendly initiatives to learn from South America
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Throughout our time in this part of the world, we’ve come across many environmentally-friendly initiatives we can learn from South America. Some have been ingenious, others a slap in the face for how obvious they are.
Although many of these ‘initiatives’ will in reality be borne of a need to live efficiently in developing countries and thus any reduction in environmental impact is just a happy byproduct, the fact remains that these ways of going about daily life could work towards helping the UK achieve its sustainability targets.
Of course, South America still has a long way to go in terms of becoming environmentally-friendly, with many countries strengthening their economy and political reforms as a priority before environmental policies, but applying new technologies to more of a blank canvas may allow developing countries to implement sustainability initiatives with greater efficiency.
1. Bogotá’s number plate system
The sprawling city of Bogotá only has a system which means cars with odd-numbered number plates can only drive during rush hours on certain days, and even-numbered plates can only drive on others. This aimed not only to reduce traffic, but also the amount of pollution the city produces, as it makes residents more likely to lift-share or take public transport on alternate days.
However, it can be argued that it did result in more traffic during off-peak hours as people rushed to get around the system.
2. Reusing glass bottles
In almost every part of South America, when you buy a glass bottle of something you will be automatically charged an add-on deposit, whether in a family-run cornershop or a megastore.
That’s because instead of throwing random bottles into a bottle bank for recycling, almost every glass bottle is carefully returned by the customer, then sorted and collected in bulk from the store and reused by drinks companies to limit the need for plastic and keep production costs down. This environmentally-friendly initiative in South America is known as a DRS (deposit return scheme) and has started to be trialled in the UK.
3. Product pouches
While still plastic-based, a thin bag or pouch will require much less plastic than a PET bottle or carton. Both a cost-saver and an environmental advantage, brands throughout South America have opted to switch to bags and stand-up pouches, whether that be for condiments, yoghurt, water or shampoo. Consumers can pour the product out into washable jugs at home if they wish to make serving easier.
If you want to limit your environmental impact while travelling, and don’t have a tight deadline, one of South America’s many colectivo buses could be your answer. While there is some semblance of a timetable, these buses will only leave for their destination once full.
Although this sometimes means waiting for 3 hours to find enough people to fill a minibus for a less popular destination (we found this out the hard way on our journey to Torotoro), it also ensures that buses never run inefficiently – both economically and environmentally – which is especially important in countries where cities are hours apart with only one road and no major stops in between.
Street food crockery
Mostly driven by a lack of capital to provide disposable cutlery, plates and cups to their customers, street food vendors in Bolivia, South America’s poorest country in terms of GDP p/c, have taken to serving their food and drink using normal crockery, and then washing it in a bucket on their stall between customers. Customers are either encouraged to eat their food on a bench provided by the vendor, or trusted to bring the crockery back later.
Street food makes up a substantial proportion of the options on offer in Bolivia, especially for breakfast, so even if each individual stall is on a small scale, the environmental impact of not using disposable crockery across the country isn’t to be scoffed at.
Cable car public transport systems
Out here, cable cars aren’t just a tourist attraction. Not only do cable car lines (or teleféricos, as they are called) have the ability to connect the poorest parts of cities furthest from the centre with job and education opportunities they could never access before, they are also able to reduce traffic and therefore emissions. Teleférico networks in La Paz, Medellín and Rio de Janeiro have transformed cities and moved them towards a more sustainable transport system.
With burial grounds in high demand and fewer people claiming a religion, the norm for saying goodbye to loved ones in the UK is now through cremation, which not only takes a huge amount of fuel to achieve the high temperatures but also releases mercury, carbon dioxide and other harmful gases into the atmosphere. Traditional burial isn’t hugely eco-friendly either though, with embalming chemicals and the like seeping into the soil.
Over the pond, the majority of South America chooses to ‘bury’ bodies overground, often together in the same resting place. For those who cannot afford a large family crypt, mausoleums provide several stories of space, which means there will never be an issue of having to cremate due to no longer having enough land in which to bury, and embalming chemicals do not pollute the ecosystem. Not sure how quickly this would take off in the UK, though!
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