Improving Waste Management

Improving Waste Management in Communities in Guatemala


Problem Statement
It is apparent that the modern world produces a large amount of waste. While numerous processes of waste disposal exist in developed countries around the world, many developing countries, including Guatemala, currently lack the technology to effectively manage waste disposal and ultimately reduce pollution. However, lower income households could virtually eliminate all of their organic and fecal waste through the use of biomass gasifiers, an appropriate technology that could be used to heat their homes or cook their food. The introduction of biomass gasifiers would greatly reduce their need for unreliable waste disposal, and in turn provide a renewable energy source that would be an affordable alternative to current traditions.

Today, Guatemala faces immense environmental and health concerns from the inadequate methods of waste disposal. Rivers and lakes are highly polluted and have become extremely toxic, landfills have caught on fire from the buildup of gases beneath the surface, and a very low percentage of residents are actively recycling. While it will require a country-wide effort to vastly improve current conditions, individuals may positively influence waste management by utilizing personal gasifiers to diminish organic and fecal waste from landfills. As a group, we will study the benefits and concerns of biomass gasifiers and develop a model that could be implemented within a community in Guatemala.

Project Goals

  1. Investigate the severity of waste management concerns in Guatemalan communities.
  2. Develop a model to introduce homemade biomass gasifiers into rural communities near Guatemala City in order to reduce organic waste deposited into landfills.
  3. Reflect on the developmental process involved in the introduction and application of an appropriate technology in a developing country.

Changing the Direction of Development
Our initial interest in waste management focused on the introduction of waste-to-energy development in the United States. However, as our plan developed throughout the first few weeks, waste-to-energy in the United States no longer represented an appropriate technology that would benefit a developing community, and our focus for this project shifted towards homemade biomass gasifiers in Guatemalan Communities.

But how did we shift from developing an alternative to landfills to a method of anaerobic digestion to reduce organic waste?

After realizing waste-to-energy plants were simply too industrial to be an appropriate technology, we hoped to change our focus towards implementing localized trash management in developing countries, but we struggled with thinking of projects that would be suitable for our class.

While waste management is important in all environments around the world, necessary development of technology and management plans are really only applicable in larger communities and more developed countries that generate an abundance of trash that is difficult to control. Smaller villages and communities in developing countries do not create large amounts of inorganic waste from manufactured goods due to plastics and other materials, and therefore don’t have as many (if any) issues with trash management. The majority of trash created in developing countries, especially in communities that are primarily subsistence agriculture, is organic waste from food scraps and human waste.

Trash management is more practical at a larger scale because it requires more coordination in order to collect and remove the trash. Thinking about small-scale management led us to possibilities of implementing a recycling/waste sorting center in each community, but this did not seem practical for our project. These types of centers are expensive and difficult to use – definitely not an appropriate technology for a developing country. Also, all of the waste would be collected in these communities, but where would it go? The infrastructure to deliver the recycling and trash to another area such as a nearby landfill simply does not exist in developing countries, and we did not believe that the ultimate use of a landfill agreed with our beliefs of where waste management should be headed. This led us believe that small-scale trash management is a very difficult project to implement in developing countries.

In the end, we came to the conclusion that biomass waste management would be the most beneficial project for our class, and was something that we could still fully support. It can be accomplished at a small-scale in almost any community, regardless of the level of the development that the community has reached, and the waste does not need to be transported anywhere else for processing.

Why are Landfills Bad

  • Waste of resources (recyclables, energy)
  • Emits methane gas, which contributes to greenhouse gasses and climate change
  • Can be a hazard to health
    • Material may escape the landfill and create toxic conditions in surrounding communities
      • Cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations can be caused by exposure to hazardous material
Diagram demonstrating a large-scale gasification process

How Do Biomass Gasifiers Work

  • Essentially a chemical reactor that converts biomass substances into a combustible gas
    • Done via Gasification: using heat, pressure, and steam to convert materials directly into syn-gas, its largest byproduct.
    • Residual ash and unburned charcoal residue represent less than 5% of the starting weight
  • Animal matter is first introduced for bacteria to proliferate, organic matter is later added with water.
    • Rate of conversion from organic matter to gas is dependent primarily on surrounding temperature and acidity of the mixture
    • 1lb Waste=3 Cubic Feet of Bigoas

Benefits to anaerobic digestion in a developing world household

  • The technology can convert livestock manure, municipal wastewater solids, food waste, high strengthexternal image hestia%20chart1%20jpg.jpg?la=en
    industrial wastewater and residuals, fats, oils and grease into biogas
    • Which can be used for:
      • Heating
      • Energy for cooking
  • It requires little maintenance
  • Anaerobic digesters provide a use for organic waste

Potential Problems

  • Gasification is more successful when the gasifier is designed for a specific fuel type
  • It can be difficult to get the produced gas into the proper state
    • Variations in energy content, gas composition, and impurities
  • Even if it’s designed to be very simple, a gasifier requires qualified people to make it work

Our Homemade Model

Demographics of Guatemala

  • Estimated population: 15 million people (from 2015)
  • Official language: Spanish
  • Life expectancy at birth: 71.66 years (from 2012)
  • Median age of the population: 21 years (from 2014)
  • Percent of the population in rural communities: 48.4%
  • An estimated 54% of the population is living in poverty (from 2011)
  • Only 6.5% of the national GDP is spent on health related issues each year

This Gapminder shows a correlation between the percentage of the population that has access to quality sanitation processes and the percent of energy produced from biofuels. Countries with less access to improved sanitation (typically what we consider developing countries) look to other means of energy production (such as burning biofuels) that are much cheaper than burning fossil fuels. Guatemala follows this trend, with only about 78% of the people having access to improved sanitation, and 62% of their energy coming from biofuels.

Communities in Guatemala
guatemala.PNGguatemala city.PNG

lake atitlan.PNG

The three communities starred on the map above, Santiago Atitlán, Sololá, and Panajachel are the focal areas for developing a plan to implement homemade gasifiers.

Stakeholder Analysis for Biogas Energy and Waste Management

Stakeholder Groups Interests at Stake in relation to project Effect of project on interests (-,0,+) Stakeholder importance for project success (?,1,2,3,4,5) Degree of influence of stakeholder: (?,1,2,3,4,5)
Farmers Way to get rid of organic material byproduct (+) 5 4
NGOs Good entry into waste projects (+) 3 5
Environmentalists Reduces carbon emissions (+) 3 4
Pete Good project to look into for next year (+) 5 1
Us Improve waste management (+) 5 1

Local Organizations
Yo Soy Atitlán
“#YoSoyAtitlan Is an initiative of sensitization and awareness based on citizen participation and the exchange of best international practices facing landscape theme focused on the Lake Atitlan. The participatory process consists of three workshops: the first in Santiago Atitlan, Solola the second, and third in Panajachel.”
–Description of the organization from their Facebook page
“Yo soy Atitlán is a joint Italian/Guatemalan initiative, which aims to raise the profile of Lake Atitlán´s problems and work with the government, environmental organizations, specialists and the surrounding communities to combat the contamination that threatens to destroy it…[in order to] to improve the ecological conditions of the lake, territorial planning is needed with an integrated management of solid and liquid waste to prevent the entry of raw sewage and reduce the accumulation of phosphorous and nitrogen.”–Local News report on the goals of Yo Soy Atitlán
Alterna – Viogaz
A company that works with entrepreneurs and small businesses to are introducing products to various communities around the world. As part of their “Social Venture Incubation” program, they are working with another company called Viogaz that is implementing small and medium biodigesters in rural communities throughout Central America. Currently, 95 biodigestors have been installed, and efforts have been focused on trying to introduce digesters in Guatemala as well. However, they have lacked the financing and support within the country, and have not yet been able to successfully introduce this alternative energy source in Guatemala.

Our Goal
We hope to provide an environmentally friendly alternate to organic waste disposal that is accessible to people of all levels of wealth. In conjunction with Yo Soy Atitlan, we would like to reach out to the three main communities of focus in order to provide knowledge about cost-effective biomass gasifiers. Not only could residents of these communities reduce their impact on the environment, but they would be able to provide energy to power their homes or cook meals, and help recover what used to be one of Guatemala’s most beautiful lakes. We would work with Alterna to develop an efficient, homemade biomass gasifier that could be introduced to these local communities and model a business plan after their method of implementation has proved successful in other Central American countries.

Unfortunately, because we were unable to hear back from either Yo Soy Atitlan or Alterna, our goals have been stalled until we can make contact in the local communities to hear exactly what is needed for the people in terms of waste disposal.

What Matters to Us – Our Underlying Values
However, across most industrialized countries in the world today, there is still an excessive amount of waste and pollution that is not being appropriately managed. These countries, including the United States, are not necessarily as perfect as we would like to believe, and lack the proper disposal and reuse of waste materials despite having the wealth and infrastructure needed to introduce drastic changes. So how can we hope to improve waste management in developing countries if our own system isn’t successful?

We can only increase the level of development in these countries to a level that is similar to our own. We’re not going to design a waste management system in a developing country that is better than the kinds of systems that we have in place in the United States. However, if we impose our own management systems on developing countries, similar problems will eventually surface in these communities, and there is ultimately no progress in waste management. Because of this, we believe we might be more successful in improving developing countries if we work towards solving our own internal problems first. Waste management needs to head towards more energy efficient recycling and reuse methods, and work to eliminate the dependency on landfills as a permanent means of dealing with trash.

What Do We Think about the “Conflict” Throughout the Project?
Nicole –
What I was disappointed about was that we couldn’t do trash management like I had originally hoped. We switched to biomass waste management which isn’t really my passion but it’s easier to modify this tech to use at a small-scale in developing countries. This really showed us how difficult the development process is and how something like trash management won’t be able to be solved with a simple plan.
Kelsey –
I was only disappointed that we put a bunch of work into one project and had to essentially start over around week 6, with no indications that we were not headed in the right direction prior to that. However after reflecting on this process overall and the goals of this class, I understand that it was necessary to transition towards a more appropriate technology, and am pleased with my new understanding of just how difficult it is to develop a model for a foreign community.
Amber –
I don’t think I was as disappointed as some of the members in the group about having to change our focus. I was more intent upon finding a solution and continuing our project. In fact, I think we spent too much time reflecting on our feelings. Of course it’s disappointing at first, but it’s almost as if this conflict became the focus of our project… I don’t mind if things don’t always work out, but I definitely like to move on.

Resources –
EPA Landfill Info
Methane Emissions – Landfills
The World Factbook
Yo Soy Atitlan
Pros and Cons
Interview with local resident

Group Members: Ted, Nicole, Amber, Taylor, Kelsey

Contact Information
Kelsey Haberly –
Taylor Hoover –
Ted Swartzbaugh –
Amber Clark –
Nicole Petersen –

  • Waste of resources (recyclables, energy)
  • Emits methane gas, which contributes to greenhouse gasses and climate change
  • Can be a hazard to health
    • Material may escape the landfill and create toxic conditions in surrounding communities
      • Cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations can be caused by exposure to hazardous material

Move all my comments in red to the very bottom of your website so I can refer to what I wrote, but the reader won’t be inconvenienced by my comments. At present, this would receive a “B”, but I recognize that you are not finished yet. I think that the kind of things that would go in a gasifier (organic waste) are different from that which would go to a landfill, and your graphic below indicating production of electricity is not what your project is about? I would like to see a specific design that you are considering and relate stories of how people have used them. I visited a group called Alterna in Xela a few times, that was researching biogas for stoves. They were (are?) a serious group of researchers that designed and introduced a fuel efficient stove. The last time we spoke, I think that they had transitioned completely to microhydro electricity production.

OK, it is then only this animal matter that is represented at right?… Do you mean “animal”, or “biological”? Because I think plant matter would be dealt with the same, no?