From Cocaine to Cement: An Innovative Solution

December 16, 2005

WHAT’S the tallest structure in Costa Rica? It’s not one of San José’s office towers – it’s a high-tech, 116- meter-tall oven in the province of Cartago in which 10,000 tons of environmentally harmful trash, confiscated drugs and confidential documents are burned yearly as fuel to manufacture cement.

 

The gigantic oven is used for “co-processing,” or combining the processes of burning wastes and producing cement, by the Swiss-based company Holcim, a producer of cement in 70 countries worldwide that has its Costa Rican headquarters in Cartago, east of San José.

 

These two processes go hand-in-hand, explained Luis Montejo, director of Holcim’s alternative fuels and raw materials division. The high temperatures required to make cement (between 900 and 2,200 degrees Centigrade, 1,652 and 3,992 degrees Fahrenheit) ensure that all harmful chemical compounds are destroyed. An additional benefit: many of these wastes, such as oils used in food production and car maintenance, provide substantial energy when burned, which can then be consumed in cement production.

 

AT Holcim’s Cartago plant, the company collects trash that can pose environmental or health risks if disposed of in a traditional landfill, such as agrochemical containers, bio-wastes, used oil, solvents and tires. Using bulldozers, workers group these materials and grind them into a thick mixture, then into a finer mixture fit for dumping into the oven, explained Montejo.

 

Wastes that, for security reasons, cannot be disposed of in a landfill provide another fuel source – up to three tons a year of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs confiscated by the Public Security Ministry are burned in the oven. Bills taken out of circulation, confidential documents and expired medicines also provide fuel for the flames.

 

For business owners, co-processing their wastes provides both peace of mind that they are not harming the environment and a feasible option for complying with waste-management laws.

 

Under Costa Rican law, there are two classifications of wastes: ordinary wastes produced by homes and offices that are fit for dumping in a landfill, and special wastes, including oil, used batteries and agrochemical containers, that must be otherwise disposed of, explained Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) Environmental Quality Management Coordinator Walter Zavala.

 

“THIS (management of environmentally hazardous wastes) has become worrisome for us. Many times, there are cases of irresponsibility with oil,” Zavala said.

 

“There are dangers that could result without proper management of these wastes, like pollution of water resources and rivers.” He referred to the recent contamination of water sources in the municipality of Belén, northwest of San José, as an example (TT, Nov. 11).

 

Oil companies like Shell and paint companies like Pintura Sur, a Costa Rica based company with distribution throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, are among those that send oils, solvents and other wastes to Holcim for destruction.

 

Pintura Sur, for example, sends 120 tons of solvents used in the paint-making process to Holcim yearly, said Ronald Araya, director of environmental management at Sur Química, the chemical division of Grupo Sur that also encompasses Pintura Sur. Before Holcim’s co-processing service became available in September 2004, the company had to find other alternatives to deal with these wastes, including storing them in warehouses and shipping them to Finland, where facilities were available to destroy them.

 

“There was strict legislation concerning the management of wastes, but there was no infrastructure,” Araya said. “We believe that everyone who generates wastes should comply with their management, but there have to be alternatives.”

 

A decree proposed by MINAE is now in the final stages of approval in that Ministry and will then move to the Legislative Assembly for final review before becoming published. The decree, which Zavala said is backed up by existing regulatory laws, urges more of these alternatives by creating a National System for the Integral Management of Special Wastes to make sure wastes are handled properly, Zavala explained. That means encouraging more private companies such as Holcim to provide waste-management services, and creating divisions within companies that produce these wastes to manage them. Holcim’s co-processing program is currently the only one of its size in Costa Rica; the international cement company Cemex, with operations in Costa Rica and 29 other countries worldwide, has a smaller co-processing operation.

 

“Producers must start incorporating some type of sustainability into the management of wastes,” Zavala said. “We’re all responsible for what we throw away.”

 

The decree encourages business owners to see waste management as an income-generating opportunity, while also weighing the environmental value of protecting natural resources. For example, many electronic wastes, such as computers, scanners and cell phones, have recyclable or reusable parts, giving them commercial value that is currently overlooked, Zavala said. Companies can also profit from collecting wastes that cannot be recycled or reused, such as oils and some types of plastics, by charging companies a fee to collect and destroy them.

 

The goals of Holcim’s co-processing program, however, are environmental, not economic, said Montejo.

 

“We’re not trying to make a profit; we offer the service at a low cost. We’re looking for economic sustainability, a savings for the environment.”

 

Holcim invested $70 million to construct the oven, which the company hopes to recuperate in the long run, said Montejo.

 

The company either receives wastes at no cost or charges a small fee, depending on how easy they are to manage and how much energy they provide.

 

Used oil, for example, because it is easy to manage and provides a substantial 40 gigajoules of energy per ton burned, is received by Holcim at no cost. Tires, on the other hand, require labor intensive cutting and shredding and provide less energy, so the company charges $20 per ton received.

 

For more information about Holcim’s co-processing program, call 591-7349 or visit www.ecolsim.com.

 

 

 

WHAT’S the tallest structure in Costa Rica? It’s not one of San José’s office towers – it’s a high-tech, 116- meter-tall oven in the province of Cartago in which 10,000 tons of environmentally harmful trash, confiscated drugs and confidential documents are burned yearly as fuel to manufacture cement.

 

The gigantic oven is used for “co-processing,” or combining the processes of burning wastes and producing cement, by the Swiss-based company Holcim, a producer of cement in 70 countries worldwide that has its Costa Rican headquarters in Cartago, east of San José.

 

These two processes go hand-in-hand, explained Luis Montejo, director of Holcim’s alternative fuels and raw materials division. The high temperatures required to make cement (between 900 and 2,200 degrees Centigrade, 1,652 and 3,992 degrees Fahrenheit) ensure that all harmful chemical compounds are destroyed. An additional benefit: many of these wastes, such as oils used in food production and car maintenance, provide substantial energy when burned, which can then be consumed in cement production.

 

AT Holcim’s Cartago plant, the company collects trash that can pose environmental or health risks if disposed of in a traditional landfill, such as agrochemical containers, bio-wastes, used oil, solvents and tires. Using bulldozers, workers group these materials and grind them into a thick mixture, then into a finer mixture fit for dumping into the oven, explained Montejo.

 

Wastes that, for security reasons, cannot be disposed of in a landfill provide another fuel source – up to three tons a year of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs confiscated by the Public Security Ministry are burned in the oven. Bills taken out of circulation, confidential documents and expired medicines also provide fuel for the flames.

 

For business owners, co-processing their wastes provides both peace of mind that they are not harming the environment and a feasible option for complying with waste-management laws.

 

Under Costa Rican law, there are two classifications of wastes: ordinary wastes produced by homes and offices that are fit for dumping in a landfill, and special wastes, including oil, used batteries and agrochemical containers, that must be otherwise disposed of, explained Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) Environmental Quality Management Coordinator Walter Zavala.

 

“THIS (management of environmentally hazardous wastes) has become worrisome for us. Many times, there are cases of irresponsibility with oil,” Zavala said.

 

“There are dangers that could result without proper management of these wastes, like pollution of water resources and rivers.” He referred to the recent contamination of water sources in the municipality of Belén, northwest of San José, as an example (TT, Nov. 11).

 

Oil companies like Shell and paint companies like Pintura Sur, a Costa Rica based company with distribution throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, are among those that send oils, solvents and other wastes to Holcim for destruction.

 

Pintura Sur, for example, sends 120 tons of solvents used in the paint-making process to Holcim yearly, said Ronald Araya, director of environmental management at Sur Química, the chemical division of Grupo Sur that also encompasses Pintura Sur. Before Holcim’s co-processing service became available in September 2004, the company had to find other alternatives to deal with these wastes, including storing them in warehouses and shipping them to Finland, where facilities were available to destroy them.

 

“There was strict legislation concerning the management of wastes, but there was no infrastructure,” Araya said. “We believe that everyone who generates wastes should comply with their management, but there have to be alternatives.”

 

A decree proposed by MINAE is now in the final stages of approval in that Ministry and will then move to the Legislative Assembly for final review before becoming published. The decree, which Zavala said is backed up by existing regulatory laws, urges more of these alternatives by creating a National System for the Integral Management of Special Wastes to make sure wastes are handled properly, Zavala explained. That means encouraging more private companies such as Holcim to provide waste-management services, and creating divisions within companies that produce these wastes to manage them. Holcim’s co-processing program is currently the only one of its size in Costa Rica; the international cement company Cemex, with operations in Costa Rica and 29 other countries worldwide, has a smaller co-processing operation.

 

“Producers must start incorporating some type of sustainability into the management of wastes,” Zavala said. “We’re all responsible for what we throw away.”

 

The decree encourages business owners to see waste management as an income-generating opportunity, while also weighing the environmental value of protecting natural resources. For example, many electronic wastes, such as computers, scanners and cell phones, have recyclable or reusable parts, giving them commercial value that is currently overlooked, Zavala said. Companies can also profit from collecting wastes that cannot be recycled or reused, such as oils and some types of plastics, by charging companies a fee to collect and destroy them.

 

The goals of Holcim’s co-processing program, however, are environmental, not economic, said Montejo.

 

“We’re not trying to make a profit; we offer the service at a low cost. We’re looking for economic sustainability, a savings for the environment.”

 

Holcim invested $70 million to construct the oven, which the company hopes to recuperate in the long run, said Montejo.

 

The company either receives wastes at no cost or charges a small fee, depending on how easy they are to manage and how much energy they provide.

 

Used oil, for example, because it is easy to manage and provides a substantial 40 gigajoules of energy per ton burned, is received by Holcim at no cost. Tires, on the other hand, require labor intensive cutting and shredding and provide less energy, so the company charges $20 per ton received.

 

For more information about Holcim’s co-processing program, call 591-7349 or visit www.ecolsim.com.

 

 

 

 

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