Our ecovillage utilizes a biodigester as an excellent solution for sewage treatment. Biodigesters offer the ability to transform waste into usable energy, in the form of methane, and leftover product for fertilizer. Our biosystem consists of a biodigester (left), compensation box (middle), biofilters (right), lake of macrophytes (algae), and root zone (far right). It can be built with relatively low cost and ease, and does not require sophisticated materials or advanced construction knowledge to build.
The biofertilizer produced in the treatment process has no pathogens, due to the anaerobic fermentation it passes through, and is ideal for use in the maintenance of community squares and gardens because it does not pose health risks. It is consolidated as a perfect substitute for chemical fertilizers, which can be more expensive and aggressive to the environment.
The methane gas that is captured in the biodigester is of good quality and can be used in the kitchen of public schools, nurseries and hospitals, or, in large quantities, in thermoelectric plants.
Here in our reserve, initially, we built the biosystem with a focus on sewage treatment. However, the extraction of products from the process far exceeded the expectations foreseen in our planning, and today we have at least two hours of gas daily for consumption in the kitchen and workshop, while biofertilizers are used in the orchard, where we obtained a gain of productivity of at least 50%.
The camp sorts its output by organic and non-organic waste, paper, plastic, glass, and composting items. Even in such a remote location, where we do not have the resources available to recycle everything, we try as much as possible to recycle all that we can. We are also hoping to increase recycling capabilities in our area, not only to serve the camp, but the surrounding community as well.
Our lodge has constructed an advanced hybrid energy system, using the combined power of solar and wind sources with an assortment of battery banks and a three-phase inverter system. In total, our solar park contains 180 PV modules, and the system altogether may be monitored remotely.
With this, we have also been able to provide additional modules to a local school, and stimulate the community in a number of other sustainable and innovative ways. To date, our system has allowed for 280 MWh of clean electricity, and provides power to the entire lodge, our dive center’s air compressor, and to our water treatment plant.
Our camp uses a composting toilet system, which requires very little water and is excellent for soil regeneration. Such a system utilizes decomposition and evaporation to process waste. What is not evaporated, we mix with wood chips. This remains an active process in which aerobic bacteria transform the waste into fertilizing soil.
Due to the important contribution of the bacteria, the final product is non-harmful and safe to use. This is why we spend a great deal of effort to ensure a hospitable and warm environment for the process, especially through our very cold weather.
Our septic system is a composting system whereby the water flows into a septic tank, and then to soak a field. These fields are contained in large block vats, lined with several feet of PVC pipe, then covered with earth and banana trees. The banana roots form a dense mat which then absorbs the water and nutrients from the vat, creating a closed system of bio and phyto (plant) remediation (restoring balance). As a result, our land and river are waste free.
In addition to our lodge’s hybrid energy system, we have completed the construction of 16 stand-alone indirect solar water heating systems of 150 liters each. To date, the use of this system has succeeded in saving 370 MWh of electricity.
As well, we have created a reverse osmosis water treatment plant, with a capacity of 80 liters per minute. This has allowed us to clean over 14,000 m3 of water, to date.
This is one of the nice reusable bags we had received at a local store, after legislation regulating plastic use was enacted in Colombia in 2016. Due to the large amount of plastic waste ending up in surrounding water bodies, Colombia has banned all plastic bags smaller than 30×30 cm, and placed a small charge on others that can still be purchased in stores (with a plan set to increase the tax each year until 2020).
By the middle of 2018, this initiative had served to decrease plastic bag consumption by 35%, and raised around $4 million in taxes [see articles below]. Success from these efforts is spurring other similar initiatives and will hopefully continue to drive progress toward mitigating damage from plastic moving on.
More on Colombia’s Plastic Initiatives:
We noticed these earthships while driving through the state of New Mexico. Earthships are incredibly well designed, innovative, low-impact homes. They generally offer a multitude of sustainable features, are built with sustainable materials, designed for efficient heating and cooling, harvest both energy and water, and utilize a great variety of other friendly practices.
We use a set of thermosiphons to heat water for the camp. The water supply travels through the system, being heated by the energy transferred from the sun to a solar collector. Even in cold areas, solar energy may be harnessed and utilized toward a variety of applications, such as this one.
Our camp is thoughtfully designed to take full advantage of available natural light, within our domes. Not only does this serve to save on indoor lighting, it provides for a magnificent outlook on our extraordinary surroundings.
Most of the vegetables and fruits we eat at the lodge are harvested in the garden by our gardeners. SHI (Sustainable Harvest International) also provides workshops in this garden, and guests can volunteer if they choose to. We have some animals, two horses that substitute as lawn mowers, and pigs that help with composting.
Our cabanas mimic the thatch homes still built in the Toledo district of Belize. The thatch roofing helps regulate inside temperature, and provides extremely excellent insulating properties. This makes it a perfect feature for keeping rooms cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The thatch is made from a local plant called bayleaf which, if harvested at the correct time, can last up to 30 or 40 years.
The visitor center provides information about creating pollinator and native plant gardens for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.
- Growing native plants in your garden
- Planting a diversity of flowering species
- Not using pesticides or herbicides
- Providing sunny, bare soil areas for ground-nesting bees.
Pollinators are a vital part of maintaining our ecosystems. Many crops, plant species, and nearly every flowering plant on earth require help with pollination. ‘Somewhere between 75% and 95% of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination – they need pollinators.
Pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1200 crops. In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife (Pollinator Partnership).’
Our apartment complex has recycling bins in community mail areas, encouraging recycling directly at the source, where there is a high potential for mass paper waste. This has been an easy way to help residents responsibly dispose of unneeded letters and other mail that may otherwise be thrown away with regular trash.
All of our water is locally-sourced from the Moho River. It is UV triple-filtered for use in our cabanas, main lodge, and garden.