The Monteverde Chamber of Tourism created a virtual platform to provide visitors to the area with information about available services and attractions, educate them about responsible tourism and market local businesses of all scales and types, as well as generating income to support the project and to support community initiatives.
Off a side road in Cañitas, on the farm belonging to Jose Cruz (best-known currently as the co-owner and operator of Don Juan Tours, and a staunch supporter of the Monteverde Community Fund and other community initiatives), our Smart Economy Fund is living up to its name. There is an experiment in alchemy going on which, while it doesn't turn lead into gold, performs a transformation much more useful to 21st century society - turning garbage into fertilizer and fuel. The goal is to explore the feasibility of a municipality-wide project to collect organic waste and convert it into marketable and environmentally desirable products.
The project, being managed by former MCF Executive Director Justin Welch, is an initiative of the Comisión de Manejo Integral de Residuos Sólidos (COMIRES), the local committee working on solid waste issues in the Monteverde District. It is essentially a pre-feasibility study for turning one of Monteverde's biggest headaches - solid waste - into a benefit.
Ten dirt-floored stalls made from three wooden pallets have been home for the last three months to compost piles, each with a different "recipe" of compost, utilizing the scraps from several local restaurants and coarser fibrous matter such as leaf litter or coffee chaff to make a fluffy fertilizer which adds organic material and microbes to the soil, as well as improves its texture. A blower (of the kind used for inflatable "bouncy houses") keeps the mixture aerated without being turned.
After experimentation with different methods and recipes for composting (a stage which is near completion), the next focus of inquiry is a market study for the finished product. The project has already sold 400 L of compost to local neighbors and there are leads for wholesale buyers in San José. One goal is to create a product that meets the needs of local organic coffee and vegetable producers, which should mesh well with the CORCLIMA (Monteverde's climate action group) and MAG (the Ministry of Agriculture) push for greener agriculture with less use of artificial fertilizers.
The third major issue to be addressed is the logistics and cost of transporting the organic waste to the processing site. Although the challenge is substantial, the incentive for a solution is high. Much of this waste (40% of MV's total solid waste is organic) ends up in illegal dumps within the region or is taken to the landfill by the garbage collection system already in place. In theory, if organic waste is diverted to a local processing center, many illegal dumps can be eliminated, the total waste management costs should be reduced and a significant reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions can be achieved.
One thing that Justin and his work team of interns have discovered is that a considerable portion of current restaurant waste is already being removed by local pig farmers, at their own cost. He doesn't consider this competition, but rather envisions that a centralized collection system could be beneficial for all involved, assuring the restaurants of reliable collection services and simplifying the pickup for farmers, still leaving enough waste to produce a significant amount of compost.
Who would do the waste collection and the composting - a private business, the Municipality, or some combination - is an open question. The purpose of the study is to do the exploratory work that would provide whatever entity with the information they need to embark on such a venture. Whoever undertakes it will be doing Monteverde and the wider world a service.
In a separate but related project, represented by a stack of 5-gallon pichingas of used cooking oil in the corner of his work shed, Justin plans to make biodiesel out of used cooking oil, also from local restaurants. Other useful possibilities in the works in this outdoor laboratory are cooking gas from a combination of agricultural and kitchen waste, and a secret brew of microorganisms collected from the forest for keeping household drains free of gunk.
Our abbreviation in Spanish for Smart Economy is “E.I.” (Economía Inteligente). In English it could also stand for Environmental Intelligence. An equation which combines several problems - garbage, collection costs, contamination from chemical fertilizers and fossil fuel combustion - and cancels them out is certainly an example of both. It is messier and more complicated in reality than it sounds on paper, but add into the equation scientific knowledge, the commitment of people like Justin and the other COMIRES members, a spirit of cooperation, and a little financial support from the Monteverde Community Fund and others, and it becomes an equation with a solution.
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