Innovative Waste-to-Energy Project Profits Community

Rubbish in Water
In Argentina, rubbish will soon be processed to create marketable goods.
Photo by Will Posh

In a new partnership, 13 municipalities in Argentina have agreed to send their refuse to an innovative waste treatment facility that will turn it into electricity, biodiesel, water, and animal feed. The communities, in turn, will receive half of the profits from sales of these goods. The collaboration aims to address the excess rubbish problem in the region, relieve Argentina’s rising electricity demand, provide clean water, and create much-needed jobs and income for rural people, according to Anne Usher of FUVAAL, an organization that promotes affordable housing in Latin America.

WaterSmart Environmental, Inc., a provider of waste-to-renewable energy technologies, partnered with FUVAAL to develop the community-centered project in Argentina’s Córdoba province. A body composed of government officials and volunteers from the 13 municipalities worked with WaterSmart to determine which of the many possible byproducts would be most beneficial for the region. The goods are first being offered to local people and then sold outside the immediate area. The company is also training and employing local people to help operate the plant. In return for their garbage, the municipalities will receive 50 percent of the net profits, to be used for community projects.

The undertaking is unique, Usher says, because it uses “responsible capitalism” and is about helping people and the environment while still earning sufficient profits. The pre-feasibility study indicates that even with the payments to the community, the project “provides a very healthy rate of return on investment, sufficient to satisfy most investor requirements,” she notes.

The technology behind the waste-to-energy process involves placing the trash in an anaerobic, or oxygen-free, digester, which ultimately results in the output of sand, potable water, and five different gases. Through chemical bonding, the unpleasant odor typically associated with refuse—caused by one of the gases, hydrogen sulfide—is eliminated. The other four gases can be used to create useful products. In the case of Córdoba, the community decided it would most like to generate electricity, biodiesel, and spirulina micro-algae, a high-protein food that area farmers will use for organic livestock cultivation.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.