Yes, municipal waste can be recycled!

Loja y BasuraThe city of Loja in southern Ecuador is famous for its waste recycling program and they proudly call themselves “ecological city”. The first impression of Loja is its cleanliness, the streets are clean and not even in the surroundings of the market waste is found. The concept of waste separation begins at home with educational programs, but there are also inspectors, which fine the violators. The article relates a visit to one of the storage centers for biological waste.

by Kurt Rhyner

The city of Loja in southern Ecuador is known for its waste recycling programs and they proudly call themselves “ecological city”. The first impression of Loja is its cleanliness; the streets and even the surroundings of the market are clean. The concept of waste separation starts at home, with educational programs, but there are also inspectors who fine the violators.

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 Nobody doubts that these achievements come from the mayor of the city, who with great enthusiasm has developed a series of programs that have made his city known internationally. Meanwhile, a special consciousness and pride is noticeable throughout the population. But there is also some criticism because the waste separation is not always easy. Every day the waste train passes through the streets, but not each day does it pick up the same type of garbage; according to defined plans they pick up organic waste, metal, plastic etc. Those who put out the wrong garbage bags could be fined.

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 We visited a storage center for biological waste. Everything is dumped in to a control zone, where a natural drying, cleaning and manual selection process takes place. The organic material is placed in beds to which worms are added. After some weeks the big piles reduce themselves through decomposition, helped by the worms, to thin layers of a couple of centimeters. Now they take the humus, sieve it and then put it into presentable bags for sale. Some of the humus is used in their own garden and tree-growing program. The sale of fertilizer, seedlings and products from the garden cover the costs for recycling.

At the edge of the city we visited a different waste-storage center. A controlled area with an open hangar, it hosts the processing center for metal, paper and plastic. The most outstanding aspect for the visitor is the cleanliness and the lack of bad odors.

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 The enthusiastic manager of the center (a lawyer!) totally dominates the theme and showed us the process of how the waste is transformed into raw material. Simple machinery makes a first selection and washes the material to then be sorted by hand. The visitor is impressed by the cleanliness and the dignity with which the workers separate plastics, bottles, metals, shoes, and rags, and then toss them into the according containers.

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After that a further group of workers makes a second selection and for example cuts the plastic into an appropriate size and separates it according to type. The next step is packaging and selling the sorted material. The purchasers of these raw materials are different industrial sectors. A couple of days later we visited a small factory in Riobamba that produces hoses for irrigation systems with the raw material of plastic bags and bottles.

At the moment it is still not possible to recycle all the waste from Loja, as the system has to be extended to take care of the increasing amounts of waste that the city is generating. Some of the waste is collected in sanitary depots, with a thorough supervision and simple decomposition systems for the organic material. But even here the “green” criteria is used, the toxic waste (hospitals, batteries, chemicals etc.) is deposited in particular supervised zones, which have special drainage.

We are convinced that the experiences of Loja can be adapted to many places in southern countries, especially in towns and small cities. Responsible waste management always generates costs, but the system that is used in Loja shows us that with through sale of the recycled goods these costs can be reduced. A factor that should not be ignored is the dignity given to the work with garbage . Loja has ended the unwholesome, degrading and dirty aspects of the work at the municipal garbage dumps and has made it a respected job with a secure income.

You are here: Home Past editions Edition # 5, August 2004 Yes, municipal waste can be recycled!

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Kurt RhynerKurt Rhyner
Architect, PhD. Professor
Spanish, English, German, French.
Project conception, analysis of technologies and materials appropriate to the specific situation, financial analysis, executive management, backstopping, evaluations

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