Social innovation project aiming to repurpose food waste streams from the mining industry to benefit local agriculture.
Verdelise is a project for local communities in the Atacama desert in the north of Chile. Everything is this area is under heavy influence of copper and lithium mining industry. Influx of workers is overwhelming the local culture. The mining industry also creates a lot of pollution and swallows vast majority of water, destroying local farming. The area is now dependens on food brought here often from over 1000 miles away.
Verdelise is part of GoGlobal 2017, a collaborative project between the Royal College of Art, Imperial College London, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Universidad Tecnica Frederico Santa Maria, Dyson School of Design Engineering and Centro de Innovation UC.
Atacama Desert, Chile. It is said to be the driest desert in the world. During our 4 day research trip here, we were investigating the food cycle in this inhospitable place. Barely anything is untouched by the mining industry in this area. It created a lot of work places and infrastructure but it also attracts a lot of illegal immigrants, creates pollution and other ecological issues and swallows vast majority of water.
Many local farmers have sold their water rights to the mining companies to make some easy money and thus lost their ability to maintain their fields. This lead to a decline in farming and the area is now dependent on food brought here often from over 1000 miles away. Despite all that, there are still farmers along the Loa river who are growing all kinds of crops.
The social innovation of Verdelise initially sprung from opportunities identified during a research trip to the Atacama Desert. Through interviewing over 70 local stakeholders the intricate dynamics of the local ecosystem were explored. By connecting the right parties and introducing them to the technology of anaerobic digestion Verdelise creates value for all stakeholders involved.
Using anaerobic digestion technology, Verdelise transforms the food waste from the mines into fertiliser and bio-gas to support local farmers. Canteens in mines, in turn, create a demand for their produce. The food waste of one medium sized mine can provide 6% of fertilisers for the local agriculture, saving around $500,000.- US dollars compared to synthetic fertiliser.
Because the region has over 250 mines there is a great potential to tackle bigger problems in the long run. Verdelise incorporates this long-term perspective right from the start. By teaching farmers about native plant species that revitalize desert land on the boundaries of their plot, Verdelise takes on the massive problem of desertification. The Atacama Desert is spreading with 1 meter every day. 2/3 of Chile is experiencing moderate to severe desertification. By planting native species and nourishing them with the generated fertiliser the growth of the desert can be stopped and the amount of water retained in the soil improves dramatically, which is an important advantage to have in the driest desert on this planet!