SemiSelf Sufficient Communities 3SC: Treating Waste, Restoring and Building Data by Compostame - Urban Composting
How to link the SDGs, communities, permaculture and data generation for land restoration, research and goal achievement assessment?
Can you link the SDG's, sustainable community practices, local knowledge, permaculture, and data, for research and goal achievement assessment? Definitely yes. Through proper waste management, we can restore communities, integrate them, build resilience by implementing sustainable permaculture practices and collect data for reporting and consolidating large scale networks from the bottom-up to prevent further land degradation and foster land restoration processes. The 3SC initiative seeks to build collective networks that incorporate sustainable community practices, local traditional knowledge and data to consolidate resilient actions that generate a large impact on a local scale. The 3SC is built upon three (3) main axes aimed at climate change adaptation and mitigation: (i) waste management; (ii) permaculture practices; and (iii) data collection and analysis for reporting, research and decision making.
The following proposal is part of an ongoing project named Compóstame – Urban Composting (Promotional Vídeo in Spanish) which has been working on the stages of conceptualization and investigation through practice with small scale implementations. The project seeks to convert Compóstame – Urban Composting in an open model for a technical and scalable referent that articulates different individual initiatives from multiple actors (individual, family, community, private, public, academy) at any territorial level of administration (local, provincial, regional, national) around responsible waste treatment.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
All human settlements create environmental impacts once established, unfortunately waste treatment has become a serious issue in pretty much all major cities around the world. However, this situation can be changed by introducing good practices, which will not only lead to an immediate reduction on the pressure we put on the environment through land restoration, but also at two dimensions (1) reducing the pressure on the environment, by reducing the amount of waste received in landfills; and (2) by creating an offer of an organic fertilizer / soil restoring material called compost. With this initiative we also seek for the creation of awareness about what we eat, consume, dispose and its ultimate implications on our common home.
International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2001) defines land degradation as the temporary or permanent decline in the productive capacity of the land, and the diminution of the productive potential, including its major land uses . Unsustainable waste treatment practices have played its part on land degradation, especially by the adoption of waste treatment methods, such as landfills or incineration. These create a large scale environmental passive caused by the adoption of a linear vision of a nonlinear cycle that can be easily closed. With the 3SC initiative we have (1) not only the chance of mitigating the impacts that we put on the environment by adopting proper waste treatment processes and practices; (2) but also the opportunity of transforming that waste into a valuable material, through the process of composting, to end up with a product with economic value that can be sold as a fertilizer and can be used in processes of soil amending and restoration.
Composting has proven to be an efficient way of facing waste management by stabilizing organic waste, such as manure, yard trimmings, municipal biosolids, and organic urban wastes. The stabilized end-product (compost) provides many benefits such as increased overall waste diversion from final disposal, produce a valuable soil amendment, and improves cities overall waste collection program . Research has indicated that the composting process and the use of mature compost also provides an inexpensive solution for managing hazardous industrial waste streams (solid, air, or liquid) and for remediating soil contaminated with toxic organic compounds (such as solvents and pesticides) and inorganic compounds (such as toxic metals). Also, US – (EPA) Environmental Protection Agency explains in the document "Innovative Uses of Compost Composting of Soils Contaminated by Explosives" how fresh composting material has proven to be highly effective on the land restoration processes since the end-product is a contaminant-free soil, containing nutrient-rich humus that can enhance landscaping and horticultural applications.
In megacities like Bogotá, Colombia, the surroundings have become environmentally degraded landscapes in many cases, due to the exploitation of building materials and also due to the designation of spaces for landfilling and waste treatment. It is also in the outskirts of the city where the largest concentrations of vulnerable communities can be found responding to a center-peripheral development logic, which makes this reality even more complex and complicated, due to the negative environmental impacts well present in all possible dimensions. As stated before, the significant amount of fresh organic waste material produced in megacities proposes an interesting challenge since not offering proper treatment for this organic material implies land degradation, loss of eco-systemic services, anaerobic decomposition, methane generation, and contamination of underground water sources. With the effective transformation of organic material into compost, all previous environmental impacts are mitigated and a new product with high commercialization viability is created.
The 3SC initiative seeks to build collective networks and offer timely training to achieve the adequate articulation of multilevel actors, in order to incorporate sustainable community practices, local traditional knowledge, permaculture principles and data gathering to further consolidate resilient actions that will generate a large impact. The 3SC is built upon three (3) main axes:
- Waste management: we generate about 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, where about 50 percent, or more, is organic waste across all regions, and at least 33 percent is not managed in an environmentally safe manner . The former means that valuable organic material, which could become compost, is being turned into garbage with all its environmental implications, such as: methane generation, underwater source pollution, air contamination and respiratory affections to vulnerable communities located on the area of influence of the different landfills. By articulating communities around the composting process, which comprises the variable stages of (i) source separation, (ii) transportation, (iii) transformation / processing, (iv) storage, and (v) distribution, the finished product can be used for several land restoration processes such as the cases previously mentioned. Regarding land degradation, the project offers two major outcomes: (1) contribute to the mitigation of land degradation caused by unsafely handling organic waste; and (2) creating an organic material offer in the market that can be used for land restoration processes. This component of the initiative seeks to equip individuals, families, schools, administrations, companies and governmental actors with the adequate tools to minimize their environmental impact, through the best disposition and processing of the solid waste they produce. Consequently, we provide: (i) technical assistance and accompaniment to those who are interested so that, according to their particular lifestyle, they adopt sustainable practices; (ii) composting equipment (kit); and (iii) environmental education on issues related to waste disposal and responsible consumption.
- Permaculture initiatives: based on the 12 design principles proposed by David Holmgren, our project strives for the use of compost as the perfect excuse to integrate communities, because separating and processing waste does not work properly in places where there is no sense of community. Through our experimentation with composting, we have realized that once people become aware of the waste they generate through their daily activities, and the many ways it can be fully integrated back into nature to start a new process, it is easier to present topics such as responsible water use, nutrition, energy usage, responsible agriculture and even bioconstruction. Composting, as we envision it, is a starting point for a whole new way of conceiving what a healthy, environmentally and socially sustainable lifestyle is. Permaculture principles and initiatives are included in the proposal as a reminder of the fact that there is an urgent need to change the way we interact with our planet, and, in order to respectfully interact with this place we call earth, we need to reconnect individuals with nature and its immediate community. Permaculture initiatives have been growing in Colombia, however, compared to other countries in the world such as the USA or Mexico, we still have a long way to go. Creating visibility for this kind of practices, combined with old knowledge held by agricultural and native communities, brings an unbelievably beautiful scenario of transformation and substitution of harmful practices, since even today 2019, it is easy to find communities eradicating old valuable practices like usage of allelopathy and biofertilizers, among others, and replacing them by modern solutions like NPK agrochemical based fertilizers and monocultures.
- Data collection and reporting: up to this point, we have aimed for waste separation in order to have organic matter that will be composted within a community that probably feels more integrated, resilient and self-empowered. However, the initiative does not end with the composting experience. Data is, if not, the most valuable human asset, and we produce it all the time. For the axis of data collection and reporting, we envision the possibility of using existing free open software survey style to measure simple aspects of the project implementation, where the community itself reports the results of the process. A few examples of the data to be captured is presented as follows:
Total number of treated waste through composting (Expressed in Tons).
Total number of jobs created around composting processes (Total posts).
Total amount of output compost (Expressed in Tons)
Estimated CH4 emissions mitigated (Tons CH4).
Total Revenue (Composting Sales in local currency).
After early stages of testing, and once funding for further development of software has been obtained, the quantity, quality and complexity of data can be escalated making it possible to consider the structuration of a global database around waste processing for research and reporting on climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Who will take these actions?
Our idea is scalable and adaptable to different types and sizes of local communities worldwide. Our main focus for the initial development of the project is Bogota, Colombia, our city, particularly our neighborhood. However, as the project escalates on its size, audience, amount of residues captured, among others, new actors will be included. The idea of the project is to articulate multiple actors (individuals, families, communities, the private sector, public sector, academy) at any territorial level of administration (local, provincial, regional, national). Regarding political viability, current Colombian legal system supports the vision and actions of the 3SC project, all that this kind of policy needs is visibility and citizens that demand enforcement.
WE ALL HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER
Individuals – Families – Communities: Waste separation, recycling, home composting, education, awareness, active entailment to Compostame – Urban Composting.
Private Sector: funding, waste separation, recycling, active entailment to Compostame – Urban Composting.
Public Sector: policy formulation, funding, logistics, administrative support and sensibilization.
Academy: research, funding, training and evaluation.
Case study: «It is not only a matter of money» A body of administrative rules (Available online https://rebrand.ly/2d33ep) was created in Bogotá with the objective of reducing the amount of waste produced by introducing a waste recollection and handling service rate discount in which the household would be charged according to the weight of the delivered material. However, this normativity is barely known, the initiative had low success rates even though an economic benefit was being offered. This makes us rethink the strategy and contemplate what other benefits or economic incentives do individuals need to materialize this kind of reglamentation initiatives.
Ready for the challenges!
The main challenge is changing the mindset of the members of the community to motivate them and get them to participate actively in the local network. We might also find some difficulties in achieving goals that might involve the local government, since citizen participation in environmental decision making tends to be very limited. Nevertheless, the core of this project relies on the huge impact potential that can be achieved by articulating actors and separated initiatives around a simple process of waste transformation called composting. We are certain that composting creates awareness regarding what we eat, consume, waste and its implications on the environment. By combining this with the possibility of obtaining a yield (Ex: Reduction on waste recollection costs or profits from directly working for the composting organization) changing the mindset of the members of the community is a viable possibility.
Where will these actions be taken?
Actions will be taken, initially, in Bogotá (Colombia). Our city does not have a proper strategy for managing its urban waste. In consequence, citizens might want to contribute through recycling or sorting their waste but, in the end, everything is thrown in the city landfill. Compóstame - Urban Composting clients are individuals, families, residential complexes, schools, and companies who are willing to manage and compost their waste in a proper way but do not know-how -here is where facilitation becomes important-. The initiative may be escalated from a neighborhood level to a municipal one and moved from one city to another since there is a wide variety of technologies and techniques which allows composting to take place virtually everywhere both at large or small scale.
When it comes to sustainable development, one size does not fit all the possible cases. It is important to focus on mindsets that can be transformed to see and do things differently. In this sense, it is crucially important to achieve early goals – this means that the first actions where the community members commit are successful -. For example, if the priority of a community is to build a major size facility to treat waste, it is unlikely to succeed on that goal in a month. In contrast, if the purpose resizes to adequate the existing facilities to separate waste, then the community is able to achieve this using their own resources. Therefore, concrete actions that produce visible improvements quickly are very important for building the spirit of self-reliance and for engaging the community into participating in the project.
This is an extraordinary moment to implement this type of initiatives as the local urban policy has not yet regulated urban waste management and sustainable permaculture initiatives. On the contrary, this might give policy designers a great on-field example to start thinking about: (i) how to support these projects; (ii) how to articulate them with the existing regulation; and (iii) how to modify regulations to build a more suitable public policy in this subject. In fact, our initiative was presented to a local competition promoted by a private university and the local government of Bogotá (Ideopolis 2018) where we won the first place and receive a small funding (around $500 USD) that allowed us to scale our idea to our residential facility.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
No country selected
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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
In Bogotá, Colombia, it has been identified that 55.22% of the urban waste in the city is biodegradable organic waste. 74% of this waste is produced by residential users. If this waste is what makes up most of the waste landfills, why not use it instead of burying it or incinerating it, creating at the same time pollutants, CO2 and CH4 -known to be powerful greenhouse gases-? For example, the remains of vegetables and fruits and the pulp of coffee, once decomposed underground, pollute the groundwater and produce greenhouse gases. On the contrary, when they are treated as compost, they are transformed into a raw material for fertilization that contributes to the recovery of soils and to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases.
Composting is a major contributor when it comes to greenhouse emission reduction. When organic waste is treated by the usage of landfills, the anaerobic fermentation releases large amounts of methane which has been proven to be several times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas .
The impact of the project is directly proportional to its scale and to the organic material that, instead of going to a landfill for waste management, turns into compost. It has been estimated that one ton of organic waste disposed of as landfill and broken down by anaerobic fermentation releases about one ton of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e) of greenhouse gases, mostly in the form of methane .
What are other key benefits?
The 3SC project helps to fulfill Bogota’s Regional Plan for Climate Change (PRICC in Spanish). Bogotá has been identified as a highly vulnerable city for climate change, since all its economic and demographic dynamics depend on climate patterns to guarantee its water supply. Therefore, the local government has been working on different initiatives to prepare the city for the imminent changes related to climate variations. One of the key aspects of the public policy for climate change adaptation are (i) the availability of scientific information to raise awareness about the real magnitude of the situation of the city and (ii) the strengthening of the initiatives to reduce the vulnerability of people towards climate change, particularly on issues related to water, food and housing. Clearly, the RSC project supports all of these goals directly or indirectly . Also, Bogotá has a Municipal Plan for Risk Management on Disasters and Climate Change (2018-2030) which states, explicitly, that one of the goals of the city administration is to improve the waste management strategy through the inclusion of new players, schemes and technologies on the current plan. (if you want to check more about this plan please go to: http://ambientebogota.gov.co/577).
The major outcome from a socio-economic and environmental perspective is to build solid local networks that articulate sustainable practices to strengthen semi-self-sufficient initiatives from a bottom-up perspective. This outcome will be achieved through waste management as the initial focal point.
Some of the desirable economic outcomes from this project are: (i) increase the local investment in sustainable / permacultural initiatives; (ii) increase job offer and revenues from these actions; (iii) produce revenues from specific data collection and treatment, according to the needs from different clients; and (iv) produce revenues from technology and innovation uptakes and developments.
Some of the desirable environmental outcomes from this project are: (i) reduce the amount of waste that goes into sanitary disposal; (ii) integrate permacultural initiatives to reduce environmental and health risks in agriculture, construction, energy production, and water usage actions.
Some of the desirable social outcomes from this project are: (i) improve the living standards of local communities in urban and rural areas around the local networks; (ii) enhance the adaptive capacity these communities; (iii) develop and uptake innovative processes and technologies; (iv) have reliable data related to the local initiatives in order to guide decision-making processes related to the community and its local development.
Our initiative and the SDGs
Once the initiative has been deployed, and data has been gathered, it can be used for SDG follow up. After studying the impacts of the proposed project, it can be linked to the following Sustainable Development Goals :
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
The economic costs of this project so far have been associated with:
The design and construction of the different composting prototypes.
The design and printing of informative material for composting process at small community.
For the future, and as a result of past experiences, an important part of the available budget will be designated to the line of sensibilization, training, and education. The next line related to the study, design, and construction of local technology for composting processes. The third line is related to the design, production, and maintenance of the data collection and reporting platform and last, the line of administrative support.
¿What about the project’s sustainability?
Principle 3 of permaculture states that “you can’t work on an empty stomach”, which means it is important that, as a result of the implemented actions, a yield will be obtained. The final product, known as compost, can be sold for different uses, which means there will be a revenue income that can be used both for maintaining the project and covering its associated costs while offering a benefit to the participants of the initiative . Evidence shows that there is a growing market in Colombia for compost
(if you want to know more about composting and its growing market in Colombia, check: https://www.b2match.eu/system/holanda/files/metasus_colombia_marketspecial_090611.pdf?1367683295)
Also, by implementing an information system, additional funding may be attained since the uses of this data are wide, going from research to SDG goal achievement reports (EX: SDG High-Level Political Forum). Data collection and reporting phase is also useful for the consolidation and the expansion of the local networks, but also for the government, as they need to report to the High-level Political Forum, the central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals, specifically in the Voluntary National Reviews.
Wait a minute: with regards to collecting compost, how will this be achieved? How frequently will the compost be collected? Once made, will the community uses its own compost or will it be taken to a larger facility? We are facilitators, if we manage to sensitize, train and articulate a significant number of citizens, then we can mobilize and invest on a space or facility where we can transform this valuable waste into an even more valuable living material that can be used from reforestation to fertilizing while creating jobs and a better environment. But, we are aware that this may take a while so, in the meantime, we expect to create a critical mass, which can compost in an apartment, in a communitarian garden or in a 1 hectare facility, transforming 10 kilos/week to 10.000 tons. It is all about training and identifying the most suitable available technology for each situation. That is why Compostame – Compostaje Urbano is conceived as an adaptable and scalable model.
The proposal impacts in the short-term (1 - 15 Years) include;
Increased available material for soil restoration processes.
Increased stable job creation around composting processes.
Increased environmental awareness
Increased awareness on permacultural practices
Increased number of strengthened, self empowered communities
The proposal impacts in medium-term (15-50 years)
Increased area of land restored by the usage of composting processes in Bogotá city.
Change on patterns of consumption.
New composting technologies available.
Increased land productivity
The proposal impacts in long-term (50-100 years)
- Increased land productivity
About the author(s)
Natalia Correa Sánchez - Lawyer from Universidad de los Andes (Colombia) with a master's degree in public policy from the same university. Experience in consulting for institutional strengthening in justice administration and land policy for entities such as the National Land Agency, the judicial branch of Colombia and the Constitutional Court. Skills in qualitative and quantitative research, writing legal documents and working with interdisciplinary groups. Currently living in Bogota, Colombia.
Paula Méndez González - Industrial engineer from the Universidad de los Andes (Colombia) with a master's degree in operations research and logistics from the École des Mines de Nantes (France). Experience in consulting for the public sector in monitoring and evaluation systems, design and implementation of public policies, organizational strategy and institutional strengthening for the World Bank and for public organizations in Colombia. Complementary studies on permaculture and urban farming, among others. Member of the Living University of the Blue Economy. Currently living in Bogota, Colombia.
Juan Felipe Correa Sánchez - Administrator of tourism and hotel companies from the Externado de Colombia University (Colombia), with studies in international cooperation and development, culture and cultural management of the National University of La Plata (Argentina), Commercial and Marketing Management of the Universidad Argentina de la Empresa (Argentina) and complementary environmental studies of environmental impact assessment, permaculture (UNAL-CIER, Colombia), among others. Work experience in the public and private sector. Strong interest in sustainability, sustainable development and ODS. Experience working with tourism service providers on issues related to quality (participation of the international committee - ISO TC / 228). Currently living in Bogota, Colombia.
After reviewing participating proposals, the following initiatives are considered to be easily articulable with our 3SC initiative.
 Science Direct - Land Degradation, «Science Direct,» 05 06 2019. [En línea]. Available:https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/land-degradation
 World Bank «Composting and Its Applicability in Developing Countries», 2000, [en línea] http://www.bvsde.paho.org/bvsacd/cd48/paperseries8.pdf
 World Bank, «World Bank - WHAT A WASTE 2.0,» 01 06 2019. [En línea]. Available:http://datatopics.worldbank.org/what-a-waste/trends_in_solid_waste_management.html
 D. Holmgreen, «Permaculture Principles,» [En línea]. Available:https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_3
 Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá, Guía técnica para el aprovechamiento de residuos orgánicos a través de metodologías de compostaje y lombricultura, Bogotá: Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá, 2014.
 Agriculture and Food Government of Western Australia, «Composting, Avoid Methane Production,» [En línea]. Available:https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/climate-change/composting-avoid-methane-production[Último acceso: 2019].
 IDEAM, «PLAN REGIONAL INTEGRAL DE CAMBIO CLIMÁTICO REGIÓN CAPITAL, BOGOTÁ – CUNDINAMARCA (PRICC),» [En línea]. Available:http://www.cambioclimatico.gov.co/pricc[Último acceso: 2019].