We recently initiated an anaerobic digester project in order to facilitate the processing of organic wastes as a part of a comprehensive municipal solid waste management plan for the region of the Darien in Panama. The anaerobic digester transforms any biodegradable waste (basically anything that was once living such as animal and plant scraps) into quality compost (fertilizer) for the farms and biogas that serves as a substitute for propane fuel. The developing solid waste management plan for the area requires that no debris that could attract scavenger birds would be permitted to be collected anywhere near the airstrip due to the possible hazard for small planes. Presently, the organic wastes are burned, buried and/or fed to the dogs and crabs. The burning is believed by the local health officials to contribute to the high rate of respiratory illness, while valuable plant nutrients are lost to the atmosphere. Much wood is cut unnecessarily from the forest each year to burn for water boiling and cooking purposes as well. The use of biogas can help reduce this deforestation.
The digester unit, a series of sequential reactor tanks, rests idle at a eco-high school that BAB was instrumental in helping to get established, which is in need of material to process and labor to handle the material. The school will be teaching sustainable agriculture as part of a new program to develop skills and local enterprise for youth coming of working age. The unit adjoins the school garden areas where the fertilizers are needed for food crops and the biogas is used in the school kitchen. With more collected material, the gas could fuel boilers that process waste paper in a building to the immediate east of the school. The waste paper collection has become a prospering fair-trade micro-enterprise for Jaque artisans.
The trash problem is very visible and the smell of burning trash and plastic (dioxin) is an everyday occurrence. These simple solutions of reduction, reuse and recycling involve all residents and the rewards can be readily observed. The fertilizer and biogas are immediate built-in rewards, while the public health and deforestation issues are longer-term concerns that may be alleviated.
BAB is looking to expand the Darien bio-gas project from its current experimental stage through the placement of more organic waste receptacles around the region.