Thursday 9 February 2012

Turning Trash into Cash (ECCO Magazine)

April 27, 2011,

Ecowells Limited, not many of you may have heard about this new groundbreaking company that is turning trash into cash. Yes, Ecowells Ltd distributes compost, the product of decomposed organic material. The waste produced during agro-processing at Canco Limited is not disposed of; instead it is used to produce, what they refer to as top quality ‘soil conditioner compost’.
Their process starts with laboratory designed and tested recipes using the cleanest, local Source Separated Organic (SSO) materials, which include ackee skins, callaloo cuttings, leaves, grass, fruit and vegetable cuttings and top soil. These materials are blended and regularly turned and tested during their composting process to ensure the highest quality product.
After studying abroad in an environmentally progressive area of Northern California, Bronson McDonald returned home to begin working in the family business. An assessment revealed the company was spending too much money on waste disposal. With the knowledge gained abroad, he decided to take a First (1st) World approach to the disposal of waste produced. McDonald’s belief that there is “enough space in the world to do good and make money, not at the cost of the environment” led him to apply this thinking within the organization. McDonald thought they could get more value added by reusing the waste material to make compost, thus reducing money spent to dispose of the material while producing compost material that would end up back in the production process.
In 2003, the company ran a trial with the Scientific Research Council and the University of the West Indies that showed that the yields from its production process waste material was marketable. However, it was not until 2007 that Ecowells Ltd was truly conceptualized. It was then that Bronson McDonald, Managing Director of Ecowells Ltd, decided to take this “trash” to market. After doing an assessment of the waste they produced in making products under the Linstead Market Jamaica line, they realized their organic waste was filled with potential nutrients, which could be turned back into production. Through funding provided by USAID they were able to properly assess their waste, the chemical makeup and decide what approach to take in preparing to revolutionize their manufacturing process. Here began the closed-loop agro-processing at Canco Limited, where the waste (or organic matter) that is disposed of during production is collected, converted to compost, applied to the farm that helps to grow the produce that makes up some of their products. They currently divert over 5,000 cubic yards (approximately 300 truckloads) of waste per year from going to the landfills. That waste is collected, composted on lands not far from their factory in St. Thomas. They currently use the process of aerobic composting, where front end loaders are used to turn large piles of organic matter, about 100 feet long by 12-18 wide, this helps to feed the microbes which breakdown the organic matter.  “An efficient closed loop process is not as simple as it may sound” states Bronson McDonald, but Canco Limited has been converting all of its organic waste to compost and producing quality farm produce (callaloo, ackee, sorrel, sweet potato, scotch bonnet and pumpkin) for production for over 3 years.
Why is composting and soil health so important? McDonald suggests that everyone should learn about the dangers of mixing organic and inorganic matter. For example, when you put organic matter in a plastic bag overnight, the next day the bag is moist, sweaty and hot. This is what happens in our landfills when organic matter is added. This heat is produced in our landfills and the mixture will ultimately ignite. By diverting some of this organic matter, we are able to:
1. Reduce burning in our landfills,
2. Reduce the strain on the space needed for landfills
3. Produce healthy soil
4. Properly dispose of waste, which is better for the environment
Using compost in gardens, landscaping and farming has numerous benefits. In Jamaica’s diverse topography, there are many things to consider: is the ground too sandy? Is it too moist? Is it too dry? The use of compost in farming, landscaping and gardening helps to alleviate some of these concerns. There are no immediate results when using compost but your soil will become healthier in the process as the compost bonds with the soil molecules, over time builds the soil, and allows it to retain moisture and flourish with the added nutrients.
The many benefits of composting at home, or buying Ecowells, soil conditioner compost, are numerous, but one thing is certain, the benefits of changing how we currently dispose of our waste far outweighs our conventional methods. McDonald states “we (Jamaicans) need to be more conscious of the fact that we live on an island, we cannot claim anymore land. To preserve what we have, we need to look at more efficient and sustainable ways to develop”. By composting and/or finding alternative ways to dispose of our waste, we are in essence reducing our impact on the environment and helping to preserve its natural beauty. Ecowells is one such company, finding economically sustainable ways to manage ecology and environment.