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January 17, 2013

EPA Funds Tijuana's First Composting Center Led by WiLDCOAST's Partner NGO- Tijuana Calidad de Vida

Story by Sandra Dibble
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Published January 17, 2013 in UT San Diego

Written by Sandra Dibble

TIJUANA — The first urban composting center in Tijuana was cause for cross-border celebration Wednesday, winning praise as a small pilot project that is raising big hopes for the future of organic waste recycling in this city of 1.7 million people.

Spearheaded by the nonprofit group Tijuana Calidad de Vida, the center aims to find new purpose for yard waste and discarded fruits and vegetables that currently end up in the city’s landfill.

“What we want more than anything is to transform city policy on the disposal of these residues,” said Carmen Romo, 38, an architect and Tijuana native whose efforts were key to the center's establishment. “We’re aiming for a network of compost centers, so that the city can take advantage of the 40 percent of organic waste that we’re sending to the landfill.”

Billed as the first of its kind on Mexico’s northern border, the center began operating last year, taking in trimmings and trees from public parks and nurseries. Within the next couple of months, it expects to begin processing fruit and vegetable waste as well.

Romo’s group has collaborated with government U.S. and Mexican agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which last year provided a $73,000 grant as seed money for the project. Specialists from San Diego’s Environmental Services Department provided training and technical advice, while the city of Tijuana provided the land and Mexico’s federal environmental agency, Semarnat, supplied temporary laborers.

Proponents of the project said composting in Tijuana will create benefits on both sides of the border by reducing trash in the shared Tijuana River watershed.

Compost, used as a soil fertilizer, is made up of decayed organic material. When sent to landfills, the same organic waste creates environmentally harmful emissions of methane.

Set amid busy highways near Tijuana’s central bus station and the concrete channel of the Tijuana River, the center occupies a 1.3-acre lot. On Wednesday morning, guests from both countries gathered amid neat mounds of compost known as windrows.

One key visitor was impressed: “If you saw this in Napa Valley, you’d think this is just the most boutique compost facility,” said Jared Blumenfeld, head of EPA Region 9, which covers the Pacific southwest. He announced a second grant of $20,000, part of which will be used for public outreach and education programs.

Tijuana already has a booming metal recycling sector, “but as far as organic waste recycling, it’s almost nonexistent,” said Saúl Guzmán, an official with Semarnat. “There is great potential to try to capture much of these residues.”

Like other EPA-supported projects in Baja California, funds for the project were administered by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, a U.S.-Mexican institution created in 1994 under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“These projects are hard to do,” said María Elena Giner, the commission’s general manager. “They don’t have the motor of the municipality, they don’t have the motor of the state government. These are done by communities. These kinds of projects touch my heart.”