Speakers from the public, private, academic, and civil society sectors of Antofagasta discussed the opportunities in the framework of the circular economy
Eurochile Business Foundation, together with Enel Chile, the Regional Government and the University of Antofagasta organised the second conference within the framework of the study “Circular Cities for Chile”, research developed by Enel Chile, together with the Center of Extension of UC Davis Chile and with the collaboration and sponsorship of the Ministry of the Environment.
With the aim of disseminating the main topics of the study “Circular Cities for Chile” and sharing the local initiatives that are contributing to the sustainability and resilience of Antofagasta, the second conference was held within the framework of the research developed by Enel Chile together with the Extension Center of UC Davis Chile and the collaboration and sponsorship of the Ministry of the Environment.
The event organised by Enel, the Eurochile Business Foundation, the Regional Government of Antofagasta, and the University of Antofagasta brought together important speakers from the public, private, academic, and civil society, who discussed the vision of a circular city, a new urban model whose advantages have been exposed in the study, which focuses on the transformation of the energy, construction and food sectors.
The head of the Planning Division of the Regional Government of Antofagasta (GORE), Iván Maturana, raised how Antofagasta has been combining with that industry that has characterized it as a city and with other social factors, among them, the integration of migrants.
“The city requires thinking, it requires acting, based on a strategy that we have to do from this; strategy that we must generate between the public world, the private world and, above all, taking citizens into account”, he explained.
In line with the above and in a complementary way, the president of the University of Antofagasta, Marcos Cikutovic, remarked that collaboration between the different sectors, and mainly, the academy, is key. He also highlighted the role of the circular economy in the design of the cities of the future, in the current context of health crisis that the planet is experiencing, which must, he said, give way to an economic and sustainable development model.
The executive director of the Eurochile Business Foundation, José Aravena, also reflected on the central theme of the event. He agreed that the circular economy is a shared commitment and circularity is a prerequisite for climate neutrality.
In that context, he recalled that Eurochile carries out a series of initiatives and projects in different regions of the country based on European knowledge and experience, making Chilean SMEs aware of the opportunities that the transition towards a circular growth model offers them, supporting them in the path of adapting their production and marketing processes to this new paradigm in order to meet the growing demand for circularity that will come from the market or from public regulation.
To have a real impact in the fight against climate change, it is necessary to expand the scale of the circular economy, affirmed the Executive Director of Eurochile, “going from the pioneers to the main economic agents and from companies to society. It is within this framework that we greatly value the Circular Cities for Chile research developed by Enel. Different key players meet in cities for a successful transition to the circular economy. Here, companies, academia, public institutions, and civil society interact, what better place to discuss an agreed strategy to achieve a climate-neutral and efficient society in the use of resources, because, ultimately, it is the commitment of society that depends on the success of this crucial initiative”.
In the event, the head of Circular Economy at Enel Chile, Natalia Correa, presented the main results and scope of the study “Circular Cities for Chile”. The research identifies circularity opportunities for the economic sectors of energy, construction, and food, while proposing interventions based on the principles and business models of the circular economy for Santiago, Concepción and Antofagasta.
“We know that cities face many challenges, because they are increasingly complex systems, but in the case of Antofagasta they have a tremendous opportunity. It is still a small city and there is time to avoid the design mistakes that were made in other cities in the world,” she stressed.
The first session moderated by the Executive Director of Eurochile Business Foundation addressed the implementation of public policies and governance for the Circular Economy. At the beginning of the dialogue, the Regional Ministerial Secretary of Environment, Fernando Varas, highlighted that -within the framework of the Climate Change Law – one of the areas where efforts are focused on is reducing polluting emissions on waste, which, he said, has a direct link with the circular economy about the final disposal of organic waste.
The collection and recycling of tires is regulated by the Law of Extended Responsibility of the Producer and Promotion of Recycling, soon to be implemented in January of next year according to its regulations. In this regard, Varas said that there are already several initiatives that were approved by the Environmental Impact Assessment System.
The other priority product of the EPR Law is containers and packaging whose debut will be in September 2023, for which the local companies are preparing.
“These companies are requesting fundings to install a recovery plant in our area. What we do in Antofagasta is collect and transport waste to the city of Santiago or to the central area of the country for recycling. What we need is for the infrastructure to be installed in the Antofagasta region, “he said.
The Vice President of the CChC Antofagasta, Andrew Trench, who lamented that even in Antofagasta there is no infrastructure for the recycling of construction waste, even though the union has been noticing it for seven years. However, he mentioned the work of the CChC together with GORE to move forward on this point, since, according to Trench, they have detected that there is a significant potential for impact.
In this field of action, he commented that Clean Production Agreements (CPA) are being promoted, integrating all the companies in the construction area and with other key players involved, such as the Sustainability and Climate Change Agency, the academy, partner companies and waste management companies.
From the academy, the director of the Center for Circular Economy in Industrial Processes (CECPI) of the University of Antofagasta (UA), Ingrid Jamett, pointed out that the demand for circularity requires investment in R+D+i, and the importance that from the communities understand and install the concept of a new human development based on the circular economy model and contribute from there.
“We must invest in R+D+i, but we have to promote it with a focus and objectives that provide the possibility of combining these actions. We are not going to develop great technology; we cannot bring and buy what people tell us will work. For this, we must develop ourselves technically within the university and in society,” she stressed.
At the event, Jamett highlighted what in terms of recycling photovoltaic panels project they are carrying out with Solar Circular, an initiative supported by the Corfo Antofagasta with fundings from the Regional Government.
This project proposes the generation of protocols and technical and economic standards to enable the second-life market for these functional and non-functional modules, together with an installation manual.
One of its inputs is a study financed by Enel, which will allow obtaining answers about module failure rates, how many are seized, what conditions they are in, and how companies can dispose of them safely for the environment.
“Solar Circular has to do with the possibility of giving a different functionality to photovoltaic modules, perhaps, in another field of application, perhaps with less quality of energy generation. We don’t know, because there is no data and that is where the academy is entering generating this data, for example, in the application of green solvents, why don’t we use them?”, she said.
Initiatives and Transformation
The second session ‘Innovative Solutions for a Circular Antofagasta’ began with the director of Valora Alimentos, María José Larrazábal, told how the project was born together with other academics and professionals from various disciplines of the University of Antofagasta. In 2020 this group got together with the objective of recovering and valuing food waste generated in vegetable and fruit trading centers in the region, such as La Vega Central of Antofagasta and the Terminal Agropecuario of Calama.
The food safety expert commented that they had to carry out a data collection for the first stage of implementation of food waste management for the associated premises, which gave way to a classification into three categories: food suitable for human consumption, food partially recoverable and processed food for animal nutrition.
According to Larrazábal, Valora Alimentos has also developed a book of recipes prepared with recovered foods (leaves, stems, peels, etc.) that are usually thrown away and that is aimed at the entire population. Along with this, the project has launched two opportunity food banks, aimed at entrepreneurs, where business lines based on the circular economy are proposed.
For more than ten years Creo Antofagasta, urban planning and coordination office, has been working for the sustainable development of the city. Its executive director, Nicolás Sepúlveda, was one of the guests that spoke about the SARA programme, Antofagasta’s Recycled Water System, which is emerging as a viable and sustainable technology in the face of, he said, the environmental impact generated by desalination plants.
This new look at addressing water management in the city and the region has been taking shape for about seven years which, he remarked, is generating changes in public policies at the national level.
One of the many benefits of generating recycled water, mentioned Sepúlveda, is that “you stop irrigating public spaces with desalinated water, whose desalination plant is powered by energy that comes from a thermoelectric plant, generally, that works on coal in Mejillones.”
The SARA system, by allowing different points of treatment plants, saves resources in the distribution network, therefore, possible green areas are generated in different places, at a value that, in the case of sewage, is a third or half of the desalinated water, and in the case of gray water it is up to a twelfth.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to double, at least, the public spaces of our city with green areas and generate greater comfort. In Antofagasta, the measures are 2.7 square meters of green area per person, which is very low compared to the official recommendations of 8 to 10 meters,” he stated.
The CEO of Ecorayén Foundation, Pamela Pérez, explained the scope of the activities that they have been developing for eight years, in favor of the city’s environment, through educational spaces focused on children and older people, promoting recycling, self-cultivation and composting through workshops and guided tours, promoting the reuse of materials, transforming them into parks and family recreation spaces for educational purposes.
In the task of raising awareness, Pérez has carried out several workshops in the field of construction, innovating construction of domes made with tires. For now, this environmental education laboratory is in an alliance with Enel that seeks to make an eco-furniture store available for the inhabitants of Antofagasta. “We are very grateful because they (Enel) came to us to offer us this huge project that we believe is super important for what we are doing. With this eco-furniture store, we seek to educate the entire population of Antofagasta about how we can build furniture, how we can use pallets, but also how we can create furniture for the community”, she explained.
In this context, within the measures that Enel proposes in its study “Circular Cities for Chile”, is building with reused materials, reducing the use of virgin materials, and favoring those that are low in carbon, with valued and local contents.
Other circular projects in the city are led by the person in charge of the Environment and Cleaning of the municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, Leticia González, who has been in the area since 2020.
One of her first tasks was the installation of a municipal recycling spot. Then, the mayor decided to collaborate with a group of researchers from Católica del Norte University with a project for a solid waste energy recovery plant. For the municipality it was the opportunity to recycle, through the pyrolysis system, the tires that for years were piled up next to the sanitary landfill of the commune.
To date, Leticia specified, 1.3 tons of tires have been treated and a biofuel, gas, carbon black (material for various uses) is obtained and additionally -because it was not contemplated at the beginning- steel was obtained. “All tires come with a steel material, and it turned out to be a fourth material that can be valorized from this process, where you enter the tire into a chamber, apply pressure and temperature in the absence of oxygen. It is not an incineration, so CO2 is not produced because it is an anaerobic system. We are very happy because it worked,” she added.
The experience has motivated the municipality to continue the project with financing from the SQM company and the next goal is to further refine the biofuel before it is used in a car.
At the end of the conference, the Regional Governor, Ricardo Díaz, valued the initiatives and stated that environmental problems must continue to be faced with efficient and sustainable actions in a collaborative manner.
“We must be able to assume the commitment to be a region where we are all responsible for our waste. This means stopping consuming so much, we must change our practices, assume that we live in the driest desert in the world and, therefore, we cannot throw away water as we do. We must understand that our deserts are not garbage dumps, that there is nature there, and therefore, understand that we must pay for our waste. This implies a whole change of mentality that we are not going to achieve immediately, we need to commit ourselves to generating this dynamic, with community discipline in each act we carry out,” he said.