Walk The Line
A CIRCULAR ECONOMY PROJECT IN THE ATACAMA DESERT
The region of Antofagosta in Chile provides 40% of the world’s copper. The mining companies cause numerous health and environmental problems for the occupants of the region. Mining is responsible for 60% of Chile’s economy, making them dependent on it, and unable to protect its citizens from the harms that come with the industry.
We found an opportunity when visiting one of the many mines of the region. A mid-sized mine’s cafeteria was discarding 15m³ of food waste every week.
We proposed using an anaerobic digestor to convert that waste into liquid fertilizer and gas. Liquid fertiliser is greatly needed by the struggling local agricultural industry, and the gas can act as an extra revenue stream.
We proposed this system be scaled, accomodating more mines’ food waste into the system with the intention of using the fertiliser to improve soil conditions, and ultimately build a protective green belt to halt Chile’s desertification.
Mining companies’ industrial processes require a lot of water. In what is already the dryest desert in the world, farmers are unable to adequately tend to their crops due to the heightened scarcity brought on by the mining industry. However, as it accounts for over half of Chile’s economy, it is given priority over local citizens’ access to water.
The soil has degraded from years of drought, soil pollution and overfarming. Due to it’s condition, it cannot retain water, so requires more water to adequately farm crops.
The intense UV due to the hole in the Ozone layer above the Atacama, and the harsh winds of the desert degrades the soil, causing desertification to spread further South into the arable lands of Chile by over 1 metre every day.
1. Utilise a waste stream: Mining company cafeteria food waste.
2. Produce desirable resources: liquid fertiliser and biogas (which can be sold to fund and support the project).
3. Provide liquid fertiliser for local farmers to remediate their farmland and outwards, expanding the ecosystem.
From weeks of primary research and workshops with all potential stakeholders, we found the greatest impact we could have was to empower the local communities and agricultural industry to be able to provide for themselves.
This meant providing the material they require to remediate their working soil with a waste-stream of the mining companies, allowing for a closer relationship between the two conflicting sides.
This would allow the agricultural industry to become independent once again, and allow for easier growth of flora in civic spaces.
Through consultation with experts on the local ecology, we were assured that improving the agricultural and civic flora will ultimately lead to improved ecology for endemic and rare species in the surrounding area.
This works by having farmers and settlements plant local robust plantlife on their functioning soil frontier, slowly expanding outwards. Over a timeframe of approximately 10 years, the more delicate endemic species will begin to grow there, as the ecology of the area becomes healthy once again.
With a timescale of 20-30 years, these green areas will expand and coordinate to collide, producing a protective greenbelt across the Atacama Desert. This will prevent further desertification and can even be used to remediate previously desertified land.