Chilean environmental technology to aid tsunami recovery effort

A new technique that transforms domestic waste into a raw construction materials – reducing landfills and greenhouse gas production – could soon be contributing to ongoing post-tsunami reconstruction works on the tiny Chilean Pacific island.

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Chilean scientists who have been developing a new ‘green’ waste management technology are hoping to expand their program to Chile’s Juan Fernandez Island to confront the island’s waste problems and to aid its ongoing post-tsunami reconstruction efforts.

On Juan Fernandez, as elsewhere in the world, landfills are currently the primary means of waste management. These take up valuable space and produce greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, as well as toxic fluids that, though managed by various collection techniques, can contaminate ground water.

The new Chilean technology produces a substance from landfill waste, Drux, which is about 70 percent denser than the untreated trash and therefore significantly reduces landfill volume. Drux is dense and durable enough to be used as a construction material and also virtually eliminates greenhouse gas emissions, while reducing the toxic fluids produced to acceptable levels.

The pilot program for this green technology, which has been running in Chile’s lakeside city of Villarrica since 2006, has seen considerable success, operating at a scale of about 7 tons (6.5 metric tons) per hour. The companies responsible for its development – Chilean firms Tryger Ltd., Moata, Condesa and Mitosan – have now patented it in the United States, Britain, Japan and more.

The proposed plant for Juan Fernandez Island, located 416 miles (670 km) off the Chilean coast,  would process 27.5 tons (25 metric tons) of trash each month. According to Tryger Ltd.’s estimates, this is sufficient to deal with the waste of up to 1,000 people, and would be more than adequate for the island’s population of 600.

The Drux processing centers are highly space efficient as well as environmentally friendly: the proposed Juan Fernandez center, located on the site of the current landfill, would require only 1,000 square ft (100 square meters).

In addition to minimizing an existing pollution problem, the raw material Drux, which can be transformed into a variety of building materials, could be used to help rebuild the town, most of which was destroyed by February’s tsunami.

“We would be able to use the materials produced by the plant in reconstruction,” says Jose Alberto Ochoa, General Manager of Tryger Ltd. “With this technology we could make the island absolutely clean.”

He added that although the current landfill on Juan Fernandez Island is small, it is “terribly dirty…the idea of the project is not only to to process future garbage, but also the garbage that’s already there.”

As of now, the project has gained the support of the mayor’s office on the island and is currently seeking funding to begin construction in the coming year.

An initial investment of about US$250 million (CP$120 billion) would cover construction of the facility, while annual operating costs would run about US$45 million (CP$22 billion).

This post is also available in Spanish