Building from Waste in Colombia: A Conversation with Cristhian Acevedo, Founder of MAECOL
Cristhian Acevedo is an innovator with a clear plan for change. As an environmental engineer and founder of Materiales Ecológicos de Colombia (MAECOL) SAS, an enterprise that converts waste into construction materials, Cristhian is passionate about reducing the negative impact waste has on the environment.
While various ecological products have been created to reduce waste and the pollution it causes in Colombia, many of these products are either too expensive or too technical to easily employ and implement. Thus Cristhian believes that creating cost-efficient and high-quality ecological products will encourage others to work towards environmental sustainability.
“It’s important to seek simple ideas that recycle different types of waste,” Cristhian says “This way, we can contribute to the preservation of natural resources and be a good example for future generations. And little by little, we can change the way humanity thinks about recycling or using waste and encourage others to support sustainable business.”
The Power of a Network
While growing up in Calí, Colombia, Cristhian used to help his uncle with his small materials business, where he learned how small materials were created for use in the construction industry. However, the construction industry’s substantial extraction of natural resources caused Cristian to consider more ecological alternatives.
“I asked my uncle if construction materials could actually be made from waste,” Cristhian recalls. “He told me that it was possible, so we began to test different materials to see which would work.”
While studying to become an environmental engineer at the University del Valle, Cristhian continued to explore the possibility of making construction materials from waste.
Professor Luis Fernando, a professor at the University del Valle and an IDIN Network member, served as a crucial source of support and guidance for Cristhian throughout the design process. In fact, it was Professor Fernando who helped Cristhian attend IDDS Zero Waste 2015 in Colombia, thus connecting Cristhian to a Network of innovators all working towards creating more sustainable waste management systems.
“The Network woke up the spark in me to believe that it’s possible to pursue my idea,” Cristhian elaborates. “At IDDS Zero Waste, I learned about various enterprises that recycled plastic, carton, and other materials. Knowing about the various ways materials can be recycled motivated me to start my own, especially since I didn’t hear about people using recycled waste to create coating mortar before.
How MAECOL Works
After attending IDDS Zero Waste, Cristhian set about creating MAECOL, which aims to contribute to waste reduction and pollution by transforming waste into high-quality construction materials that also have low environmental costs. As such, MAECOL’s current product line includes mortars, stuccos, adhesives and paints that are all comprised of recycling aggregates.
By using recycled construction waste, MAECOL reduces the amount of construction waste going to landfills and polluting the environment. It also reduces the demand for natural resources to produce new construction materials.
MAECOL’s products are also more economical, as they are sold at a cheaper price as compared to non-ecological materials or regular materials. Also, there are only a few enterprises in Colombia that are actually dedicated to creating ecological materials.
“It’s something very new in Colombia,” Cristhian says. “In Colombia, people prefer cheaper goods rather than ecological ones because they think that ecological goods have an inferior quality. At MAECOL, we want to show that ecological goods can also be of good quality.”
Taking the Next Steps
After a year of hard work, Cristhian and his team have been able to create a plan that can crush eight tons of construction and demolition waste per day. The plant also has the capacity to produce eight tons of coating mortars, stuccos, and paints per day.
“Up to now, the most memorable experience is to generate jobs,” Cristhian says. "It’s very gratifying to give salaries to people who will provide for their families.
In the upcoming months, Cristhian hopes to further increase and in fact double MAECOL’s production capacity. Then, Cristhian and his team will work towards distributing MAECOL’s productions nationwide to further spread its mission of creating environmentally sustainable construction materials.
Cristhian would also like to give a special thanks to Luis Fernando and the University del Valle who have continued to support him even after graduating three years ago. Professor Fernando has helped Cristhian connect to the IDIN Network by helping him attend the IDDS Zero Waste 2015 and encouraging him to continue connecting to the innovators and resources of the IDIN Network.