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A Greener Future, One Biodigester at a Time

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 10:18

Q: Where does Mexico stand in terms of waste-management culture?

A: Mexico has not fully developed a recycling culture. There are many initiatives to raise awareness but they are not given the importance they require. Projects for recycling and transforming waste into energy are multiplying but at a citizen level there is still a large opportunity for growth. This lack of culture has increased prices and promotes informality in recycling, although we see this trend is changing. Since the public sector is lagging in the adoption of strategies, the private sector is taking matters into its own hands. Large corporations like Danone and Coca-Cola are investing strongly in materials recovery through recycling.

Q: What makes Mexico an attractive market for anaerobic digestion infrastructure?

A: The market for biodigesters in Mexico is extremely attractive. Mexican waste composition is mostly organic since the public usually purchases fresh produce from markets and the process of waste management is not especially industrialized. However, if we do not develop the necessary infrastructure, this useful waste will go straight into a regular landfill where its processing is more difficult due to the high amount of gases. The size of Mexico’s agribusiness sector also creates great demand for these types of infrastructure.

Thanks to the public sector embracing and promoting the technology, the private sector has become far more open to it. Now our clients are 50 percent public and 50 percent private. Mexico City developed Milpa Alta, the largest biodigester built in an urban area and in Latin America. It pioneered the wasteto-energy segment in Mexico, showing the rest of the region that recycling is not only good for the environment but that it can also provide economic benefits to those companies and governments that embrace it.

Q: As the first of its kind in Mexico, what steps did SUEMA take to break the paradigms regarding investment in biodigesters?

A: To convince the government to invest in this kind of project, we started offering the public sector support in expanding the largest compost plant in Bordo Poniente five years ago. This helped us earn the public sector’s trust and build a solid reputation for our work. Because of the brand’s prestige, we were able to approach other municipalities to suggest more projects. Our involvement in social media helps to demonstrate that cost aside, a project has many benefits on a social level. Anti-construction factions commonly arise against infrastructure projects, which can be tackled by co-designing projects with communities. This makes projects more viable when they are taken before decision-makers. In Milpa Alta local communities were happy with the project because they took part in it from its beginning.

Q: What municipalities or states have shown the most interest in this type of projects?

A: Iztapalapa and Miguel Hidalgo are interested in developing their own plants. These two municipalities are governed by different political parties, which demonstrates that these changes are taking place regardless of political ideology. The initial investment for Milpa Alta was approximately MX$15 million but 40 percent of that was dedicated to knowledge generation. The next projects will have a much more flexible initial investment with an ROI of between three to five years. By investing in onsite biodigesters, companies could save all the costs of transportation and collection. However, waste separation can pose a challenge. For instance, a clean PET bottle is worth more than a bottle containing organic waste.

Q: What risks are associated with creating a waste management plant through a PPP?

A: Many municipalities are closed to these types of businesses thanks to local laws that prohibit concessions. Mexico City’s new constitution prohibits the concession of the collection and treatment of waste. The plants that we want to build should not be seen as waste-management plants but instead as energy plants. This allows us to participate in the market by selling energy to companies.