The EcoCentro in Quito

Research and awareness raising for a culture of organic waste recycling

Overview

The city of Quito, being the capital of Ecuador, is home to important companies and the second most populated city, with 2.65 million inhabitants. In the Metropolitan District of Quito (DMQ), around 2,200 tons of common solid waste are produced daily; of which almost 1,254 tons (57%) are of organic origin. Around 80% of the weight of organic waste is moisture that is transformed into leachate, which generates difficult treatment and high costs for the Public Company of Integral Waste Management of the Metropolitan District of Quito (EMGIRS-EP).

Currently, the sanitary landfill located in the Inga sector, administered by EMGIRS-EP, has a remaining useful life of 3 to 5 years due to its available space. Thus, the diversion of organic waste and its respective use is the most appropriate solution. With this background and in the framework of the program "Quito Free of Waste - Organic waste", EMGIRS-EP designed in 2018 the EcoCentro project. EcoCentro aims to raise awareness among citizens about the use of organic waste, the use of biological fertilizers and the planting of vegetables and/or fruits in urban gardens.

EcoCentro counts on the contribution of the academia to develop research in topics such as optimization of composting and vermiculture processes, fertilization of urban crops (bio fertilizers), and urban metabolism (flows of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus in the city). The Economic Development Agency CONQUITO and its program AGRUPAR - Participatory Urban Agriculture Project, and the Quito Food Bank, which delivers the products of the EcoCentro to vulnerable groups with limited access to healthy food in orphanages, nursing homes and social foundations, also support the project.

EcoCentro is an integral initiative that manages to articulate spaces for sports, leisure and nature protection; and allows citizens to better understand the urban and rural link, contemplating the idea of a healthy life, responsible consumption and sustainable management of resources.

Background

The DMQ has a Master Plan for Integrated Waste Management (PMGIR) that proposes a management model for "non-hazardous solid waste from households," which highlights the importance of education in waste prevention and minimization. Point #1 of the plan mentions "promoting knowledge of responsible consumption processes among citizens" and point #2, "promoting knowledge of non-hazardous solid waste management processes among citizens".

The PMGIR's goals include a) annual communication on responsible consumption to students (25%) and the adult population (5%), and b) the promotion of bio-stabilized and/or composted organic matter, including self-composting (2% organic matter treated by self-composting until 2025). The main objective of PMGIR is to have educational spaces that develop an integral environmental conscience and a deep practice to the citizenship. The results obtained will be used to share the lessons learned with other DMQ communities, such as the communities surrounding the "El Inga" landfill.

In order to comply with the objectives of the PMGIR, the three axes of the "Quito Free of Waste" program must be incorporated into a physical space, thus facilitating citizen participation and separation at the source. The "Quito Free of Waste" program encourages the development of mechanisms that promote a circular economy and provide a more complete and integral service to citizens, and its three fundamental axes are: (i) recyclable waste, (ii) special domestic waste; and, (iii) organic waste. It is within the framework of the program "Quito Free of Waste - Organic Waste" that EMGIRS-P designed in 2018 the EcoCentro project, located in the Rio Grande Park of the DMQ.

EMGIRS-EP is the metropolitan public company responsible for waste management within the DMQ and is in charge of the transfer, use, treatment and final disposal of solid waste. It is also responsible for promoting and educating citizens about prevention, environmental awareness and recycling. EMGIRS-EP's vision is to be an innovative and self-sustaining company that serves as a national and international reference in the integral management of solid waste, which is why it actively participates in the "Quito Free of Waste" program.

Considering the amount of common solid waste produced daily in the DMQ, the management model proposed by PMGIR and the limited capacity of the current landfill "El Inga", EMGIRS-EP saw the need to seek new, more sustainable models that include the basic principles of integrated waste management, such as prevention and precaution. The transformation of organic waste into bio fertilizer and/or biogas contributes, for example, to the reduction of agrochemicals in food production and the reduction of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. It also helps to successfully manage food products within their life cycle and to manage waste in a sustainable way.

Public institutions and bodies must adopt timely policies and measures that avoid negative environmental impacts. This means that beyond the transformation of organic waste as such, it is necessary to promote environmental education as the main tool to achieve this end. Basic knowledge in waste management and prevention of waste generation (responsible consumption, reduction in generation and self-composting) contributes to a circular economy and sows environmental awareness among citizens. The combination of both factors is what gave life to the EcoCentro project, located in the Rio Grande Park of the DMQ.

Objectives

The EcoCentro project has as its main objectives: a) awareness raising among citizens, b) environmental education, and c) the demonstration of alternatives for reusing waste and recycling waste. Some of these practices are, for example, self-composting and the adequate use of manure and bio as biological fertilizer in greenhouses, plant nurseries and gardens. These practices add ecological value within the agro-food safety strategy and are framed in the principles of the circular economy in urban areas.

The mission of the EcoCentro project is the formation of a conscious, sensitive and responsible citizenry, willing to generate changes in habits and customs in family and public spaces. Only these changes will contribute to conscious consumption, the efficient use of resources and the reincorporation of waste and residues into new and innovative value chains; thus reducing the impact of environmental problems and strengthening a new approach for a sustainable, inclusive and resilient economy.

Activities

EcoCentro has nine physical spaces, approximately 800 m2, for demonstration, continuous training, and courses designed specifically for citizens on different topics, such as worm culture management and home composting, home bio digestion, adequate use of greenhouse fertilizer, and urban organic nursery and garden. It also has a space to demonstrate the other two axes of the "Quito Free of Waste" program, thus forming an integrated system with various appropriate technologies that come together to demonstrate in a didactic way the valorisation of waste, the sustainable production of energy, water and organic food, and the protection of the environment.

EcoCentro has become a new practice that fuses the idea of a healthy life with the cultivation of healthy food, responsible consumption, and the sustainable management of productive resources; contemplating landscape, urban and environmental services provided by sustainable agricultural activities.

To promote environmental awareness and education, EMGIRS-EP has developed a "Didactic Guide for Home Composting". This document is delivered via email to all visitors of the EcoCentro and is promoted through EMGIRS-EP's social networks and virtual media. EMGIRS-E communication strategy is to motivate citizens to participate in environmental activities, share photos of their home composting and strengthen the exchange of good environmental practices.

Effects

Given that the EcoCentro was conceived as a didactic example for the management of organic domestic waste and to facilitate the implementation of self-composting systems through training for educational institutions and individuals, it is expected that in the long term, 2% of the population will perform self-composting by replicating the EcoCentro techniques. This will help reduce the amount of waste entering the landfill by approximately 16,000 tons per year.

The EcoCentro encourages the appropriation of public space with a social purpose, therefore, the main beneficiaries are trained users (500 to 5,000 people per year), as well as students from public and private educational units (approximately 1,000 students from the basic cycle/baccalaureate) who have the opportunity to know, learn and apply the good environmental practices that the EcoCentro promotes. Thanks to the support of the Banco de Alimentos de Quito, a second group of direct beneficiaries are the families and vulnerable groups that receive the "agro-ecological baskets" produced at the EcoCentro.

In addition, the implementation of the EcoCentro enables urban agriculture and its various components:

  • To be a source of opportunities for the development of a circular and collaborative economy;
  • To promote social integration, the exchange of opinions, community management, and the use of urban space, thus rebuilding community life;
  • To supply fresh food and increase the city's food self-sufficiency rate, increasing the well-being and quality of life of citizens;
  • Use public or private vacant spaces productively;
  • Promote actions that benefit the environment with the possibility of generating enterprises and being a source of ecological services;
  • Recycling organic waste for the production of fertilizers and maintenance of soil fertility, as well as, the reuse of materials such as bottles, tires, boxes among others for cultivation on a domestic scale of little space, thus reducing the amount of garbage in the city;
  • Produce under protected conditions in order to have food all year round, and supply food in case of emergencies (natural disasters, interrupted transport and communication routes, cutting off supplies due to social conflicts);
  • To be spaces of adaptive learning and civic engagement.

Conclusions

Often, when one hears about sustainable development goals, promoting the circular economy and reducing the carbon footprint gives the impression that these are issues that belong only to institutions or companies. However, our responsibility as citizens goes beyond putting waste in the appropriate container. Thus, the EcoCentro establishes an educational alternative to teach and learn about the management of organic waste, its use and in the end, to be part of an organic production chain in the DMQ (network of urban gardens).

The EcoCentro project in the Rio Grande Park has proven to be an adequate solution for the diversion of organic waste and its respective use, which was born through the awareness and recycling culture of the citizens. Although home composting is not very common in Ecuador, it could have a high impact on reducing the amount of waste delivered to dumps or sanitary landfills, since the vast majority can be easily treated in home composting. Considering the importance of public awareness and the great impact of the DMQ on food security, EMGIRS-EP is planning a second EcoCentro for northern Quito for the year 2021.

The design of the EcoCentro and the joint work with academia, the food bank and the private sector, beyond guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the project, has served to explore opportunities and to develop a prototype that can be implemented by other zonal administrations or cantons in the province; with the appropriate adaptations and improvements.

contact

Ing. Thorben Knust

Técnico Encargado (Technical Manager)

Empresa Pública de Gestión Integral de Residuos del DMQ, Ecuador (EMGIRS-EP)

knusthh(at)gmail.com

thorben.knust(at)emgirs.gob.ec

Telefon: +593 99 8059351

 

Dr. María Gabriela Dávila

General Manager

Empresa Pública de Gestión Integral de Residuos del DMQ, Ecuador (EMGIRS-EP)

Telefon: +593 2 3930600

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Categories:Integrated urban developmentUrban GardeningMunicipal servicesSolid waste management and recycling
Regions:Latin AmericaEcuadorQuito

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