Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>
Regional Overviews and Information Sources
Latin America and the Caribbean
2.4 Topic c: Composting
Centralized composting has not been successful in Latin America and the
Caribbean. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that in the last 20
years, at least 30 plants were purchased, some of which were never installed.
Approximately 15 closed only a few years after installation. At the time of this
review, one plant was reported in operation in S„o Paulo, Brazil. This plant is
owned and subsidized by the municipal government of S„o Paulo, which is
interested in its con-tinued operation due to the lack of landfill space in the
metropolitan area. Four large composting plants operated in Mexico, but none of
these is still working. Two others were purchased there, but were never
There are a number of reasons why centralized compost plants have not been
successful in the region, the most important one being the operating cost. Many
of these plants were purchased without a feasibility study and without an
existing market for the product. Municipalities, in general, cannot afford to
subsidize these compost plants, particularly when cheaper (though less
environmentally friendly) options are available. Also, due to deficient
management, the plants that were put into operation were a public health
Some community composting projects have been deemed “successful.” In most
cases, however, these have been demonstration projects sponsored by NGOs or
municipalities that wanted to create compost for parks and gardens. Would-be
self-sustaining small-scale enterprises that sell compost are struggling.
Vermiculture (worm culture), which produces humus, appears to be more
successful, since production times are much shorter (days vs. months) and the
product has a wider market than compost. Successful cases have been reported in
Colombia, Peru, and Cuba. Successful vermiculture is generally done at a very
small scale, typically with five or six persons being involved. Vermiculture
also benefits from the public perception that its product, humus, comes from
"clean" vegetable waste, whereas compost comes from
"garbage." This perception is probably right, in a way, since the main
source of waste for vermiculture is market and agricultural wastes.
Additionally, humus is richer in nutrients than is compost, and compost suffers
from worse quality control problems.
There have been some pilot trials of anaerobic digestion of wastes. Although
the process was shown to be technically feasible, its cost-effectiveness was not
demonstrated. As a result, it was never implemented.
Backyard composting is done in rural areas and poorer areas of cities. The
compost is used in the households’ vegetable plots.