• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Introduction
 The setting: Merida
 What is the SIRDO?
 Introducing the SIRDO in Merid...
 Operating the system
 The fertilizer and new perspec...
 The second setting: The valley...
 Introducing the SIRDO: Progress...
 Growth and change
 Economic potential
 Expansion and the changing role...
 Lessons learned
 Appendix
 Regional organizations providing...
 Back Cover






Group Title: Seeds
Title: Community management of waste recycling
CITATION THUMBNAILS PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088780/00001
 Material Information
Title: Community management of waste recycling the SIRDO
Series Title: Seeds
Physical Description: 20 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Schmink, Marianne
Publisher: Seeds
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1984
 Subjects
Subject: Waste products -- Mexico   ( lcsh )
Women in development -- Mexico   ( lcsh )
Recycling (Waste, etc.) -- Mexico   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Mexico
 Notes
Statement of Responsibility: story by Marianne Schmink.
General Note: Includes list of regional organizations providing technical assistance.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088780
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 12786571

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Introduction
        Page 1
    The setting: Merida
        Page 2
    What is the SIRDO?
        Page 2
        Page 3
    Introducing the SIRDO in Merida
        Page 4
        Page 5
    Operating the system
        Page 6
    The fertilizer and new perspectives
        Page 7
        Page 8
    The second setting: The valley of Mexico
        Page 9
    Introducing the SIRDO: Progress and conflict
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
    Growth and change
        Page 15
    Economic potential
        Page 15
    Expansion and the changing role of technical assistance
        Page 16
    Lessons learned
        Page 17
        Page 18
    Appendix
        Page 19
    Regional organizations providing technical assistance
        Page 20
    Back Cover
        Page 21
        Page 22
Full Text







SEEDS is a pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all over the world for
information about innovative and practical program ideas developed by and for low
income women. The pamphlets are designed as a means to share information and
spark new projects based on the positive experiences of women who are working to
help themselves and other women improve their economic status. The projects
described in this and other issues of SEEDS have been selected because they
provide women with a cash income, involve women in decision-making as well as
earning, are based on sound economic criteria, and are working successfully to
overcome obstacles commonly encountered. The reports are not meant to be
prescriptive, since every development effort will face somewhat different problems
and resources. Rather, they have been written to describe the history of an idea and
its implementation in the hope that the lessons learned can be useful in a variety of
settings. They are also being written to bring to the attention of those in decision-
making positions the fact that income generating projects for and by women are
viable and have important roles to play in development.

























Administrative support for SEEDS is provided by
The Population Council. Editorial policy is set by
the SEEDS Steering Committee: Kristin Anderson
(Center for Public Advocacy Research). Judith
Bruce (The Population Council). Kathanne McKee
(The Ford Foundation). Jill Sheffield (The Carnegie
Corporation). and Ann Leonard (Editor)


Publication of SEEDS is made possible by the
support of the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford
Foundation, Oxfam-Amenca, the Population Coun-
cil, and the Women in Development Office. Agency
for International Development


Statements made and views expressed in this
publication are solely the responsibility of the
author and not of any organization providing
support for SEEDS


No 8 1984
@4w


ISSN 073-6833














Community Management of Waste

Recycling: The SIRDO


Story by Marianne Schmink








Introduction
At the beginning of 1978, a group of families were awaiting access to low-cost
housing in M6rida, a city on Mexico's southeastern coast. Typically such low-cost,
subsidized housing consists of a three-room core unit with water, electricity and
drainage. The waiting list for houses with the conventional type of drainage used in
the region, consisting of an absorption well and septic tank, was long. There were
some units, however, equipped with a new drainage system, called SIRDO
(Integrated System for Recycling Organic Wastes). This system was 20-40% less
costly than the conventional one and posed fewer risks of environmental
contamination. Families interested in living in the experimental block where the
SIRDO was to be installed could be given housing right away. Those who accepted
the offer were compelled to do so by their urgent need for housing. Although the
drainage system was explained to them, for most it was still very unfamiliar when
they moved in. They had no way of knowing then that they were to become leaders
in the adoption and dissemination of this new technology.
Three years later, families in another community located in the crowded Valley
of Mexico were seeking a solution to growing problems of waste management.
Upon learning of the SIRDO, they visited the M6rida pilot project and subsequently
decided to try the system in their own neighborhood. Despite many differences,
these two groups have faced similar challenges in learning to manage the
technical, economic and social aspects of a new, community-based technology.
Women have played a crucial role in this process and, in so doing, have
strengthened their own standing within their families and communities. They also
have become the principal managers of a system that both improves sanitary
conditions and offers possibilities for community-based income-earning activities.
This is the story of these women and their communities, and the changes brought
about through the introduction of this new technology.






The Setting: Merida

The city of Merida is located in the
north-western corner of the state of YucatAn,
on the peninsula by the same name that juts
out from Central America. Mayan Indians
occupied the Yucatan Peninsula, the state
of Chiapas, and the highlands of Guatemala
for centuries before the Spanish conquest
and the region retains strong traces of this
heritage. Captured by the Spanish in 1542,
by 1600 M6rida had emerged as the re-
gion's political, economic and cultural
center. From the colonial period through
World War I, the city grew in size and impor-
tance based on the traditional hacienda
(large estate) system of agricultural produc-
tion that grew up around it. From the mid-
nineteenth to the early twentieth century
during the boom of the production of
henequen (a fiber similar to sissal used for
making rope, twine, rugs, etc.), Yucatan was
the richest state in Mexico and palatial
homes lined M6rida's main boulevard. But a
small elite controlled this wealth while the
majority of the state's population was sub-
sistence farmers or indentured workers on
the haciendas. Beginning in the 1930s,
henequen production began to decline and
the region's economy entered a long period
of depression that forced more and more
reliance on Government programs.
Today the city continues to depend on
the production of foodstuffs by peasants in
outlying areas, while the urban economy is
based on commerce, tourism, and other
services. Industry is dominated by small-
scale, informal enterprises that are a legacy
of the artisan workshops that grew up to
service the henequen processing industry.
Henequen is still the largest industrial sector
but continues to decline; most manufactur-
ing is of basic consumer goods such as
food, drink, and clothing. Because of the
city's weak economic base, and continued
rural-to-urban migration, under- and unem-
ployment are growing problems. Merida's
approximately 400,000 inhabitants consti-
tute about one-third of the state's popula-
tion, and this proportion has been steadily
growing. Many of these migrants have


settled in the poorest, southern zone of the
city where the housing project with the
SIRDO is located.


What Is the SIRDO?

The SIRDO system has been under
development by the Alternative Technology
Group (GTA for the Spanish Grupo de
Tecnologia Alternativa) in M6rida since
1978. GTA is a small group founded by
architect Josefina Mena in order to develop
technologies for recycling organic wastes in
urban areas. The SIRDO is designed not
only to manage urban wastes, but also to
include in this process the potential for
income and employment generating activi-
ties. The system is based on intensive labor
inputs in all phases from construction
through maintenance, and production. Its
characteristics enable cooperative
community management for day-to-day
operation.
Basically the SIRDO system works as
follows. Each house is connected to the
community system by two pipes that sep-






The Setting: Merida

The city of Merida is located in the
north-western corner of the state of YucatAn,
on the peninsula by the same name that juts
out from Central America. Mayan Indians
occupied the Yucatan Peninsula, the state
of Chiapas, and the highlands of Guatemala
for centuries before the Spanish conquest
and the region retains strong traces of this
heritage. Captured by the Spanish in 1542,
by 1600 M6rida had emerged as the re-
gion's political, economic and cultural
center. From the colonial period through
World War I, the city grew in size and impor-
tance based on the traditional hacienda
(large estate) system of agricultural produc-
tion that grew up around it. From the mid-
nineteenth to the early twentieth century
during the boom of the production of
henequen (a fiber similar to sissal used for
making rope, twine, rugs, etc.), Yucatan was
the richest state in Mexico and palatial
homes lined M6rida's main boulevard. But a
small elite controlled this wealth while the
majority of the state's population was sub-
sistence farmers or indentured workers on
the haciendas. Beginning in the 1930s,
henequen production began to decline and
the region's economy entered a long period
of depression that forced more and more
reliance on Government programs.
Today the city continues to depend on
the production of foodstuffs by peasants in
outlying areas, while the urban economy is
based on commerce, tourism, and other
services. Industry is dominated by small-
scale, informal enterprises that are a legacy
of the artisan workshops that grew up to
service the henequen processing industry.
Henequen is still the largest industrial sector
but continues to decline; most manufactur-
ing is of basic consumer goods such as
food, drink, and clothing. Because of the
city's weak economic base, and continued
rural-to-urban migration, under- and unem-
ployment are growing problems. Merida's
approximately 400,000 inhabitants consti-
tute about one-third of the state's popula-
tion, and this proportion has been steadily
growing. Many of these migrants have


settled in the poorest, southern zone of the
city where the housing project with the
SIRDO is located.


What Is the SIRDO?

The SIRDO system has been under
development by the Alternative Technology
Group (GTA for the Spanish Grupo de
Tecnologia Alternativa) in M6rida since
1978. GTA is a small group founded by
architect Josefina Mena in order to develop
technologies for recycling organic wastes in
urban areas. The SIRDO is designed not
only to manage urban wastes, but also to
include in this process the potential for
income and employment generating activi-
ties. The system is based on intensive labor
inputs in all phases from construction
through maintenance, and production. Its
characteristics enable cooperative
community management for day-to-day
operation.
Basically the SIRDO system works as
follows. Each house is connected to the
community system by two pipes that sep-








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ESQUS4A LO $iMCALLO QUE
ra COMSTRUIR EL
U DREMA-3s "StWR00 %


arate the "gray waters" (those containing
detergents flowing from bathroom, sink and
laundry) from the "black waters" coming
from the toilet. After filtering, 80 percent of
the "gray waters" can be reused for irriga-
tion. The "black waters" are channelled into
a tank where sludge is separated from the
water. The sludge is spread out in an
aerobic decomposition chamber and is


then mixed with household garbage. In this
chamber solar drying evaporates the water
and within a year's time the sludge is trans-
formed into a nutrient-rich fertilizer. The
treated "black waters" in the meantime pass
into garden beds where vegetables and
flowers may be grown; they may also be
channelled into ponds to support aqua-
culture.






The SIRDO system is unique because
it requires an amount of careful control at the
various stages of the decomposition pro-
cess that make it impossible to implement
within a large, municipal-level system. On
the other hand, it is too costly to be installed
on a single-house basis. Therefore it is ideal
for community-level management and
operation. GTA carefully adapts each SIRDO
facility to a specific site and monitors it over
time to assure proper functioning.



Introducing the SIRDO in Merida

Between January and May of 1980, the
GTA built the first two SIRDO units in Merida
with financing from a Government agency
charged with assisting low-income popula-
tions in acquiring lots for housing that
include basic services. The agency's cen-
tral office was interested in the new tech-
nology, and the regional office in Merida
somewhat reluctantly revised its housing
program to accommodate the new drainage
system. Apart from offering lots with water
and electricity, the agency financed the
drainage system and connected it to core
houses-the basic three-room unit to which
families could later add more rooms. Orig-
inal plans called for installation of houses
and drainage in 28 blocks near the southern
edge of the city. In fact only one block was
provided with the SIRDO.
At the end of 1980, the agency granted
housing to two dozen families in the exper-
imental block. Little by little they began to
occupy their lots. In most of the families the
men were employed in services, small-
scale commerce, or crafts. The vast majority
were self-employed, and more than half
earned less than the prevailing minimum
wage. Most of the women had no regular
employment, but since marital unions are
often somewhat unstable, many had worked
at some point in their lives, either as primary
or supplementary supporters of their
families. Those women who did hold jobs
generally worked as domestics or in the
small-scale sale of food and other items.
Only one woman worked in a factory. The


families had three children on average, and
most of the adults were literate but had not
continued their education beyond the
primary school level.
The GTA presented a series of orienta-
tion talks in August, 1979, about the SIRDO
which the families attended somewhat
skeptically. The drainage system began to
function, but there were many problems in
its initial phase of operation. Users com-
plained of flies, unpleasant odors, and
leakage. In addition, changes had to be
made in the housecleaning routine. Acid
products could not be used for cleaning
because they would damage the chemical
balance in the decomposition chamber. The
system also required that organic garbage
be separated from plastics, glass, and
metals which could not be dumped into the
chamber. For these reasons, many com-
munity members were resistant to the
system despite the assurances they re-
ceived from GTA as to its advantages. But
soon the odors began to disappear and
other problems were resolved. Interestingly
the children were the first to begin collab-
orating with GTA staff. They participated in
maintenance tasks such as separation of
garbage and dumping of organic wastes
into the chamber. They even painted wall
murals that showed how to use the system.
The children's enthusiasm encouraged
many of the women to begin to cooperate as
well. In May of 1981, a few community
women started meeting to allocate tasks on
a cooperative basis. They also formed a
committee to guard the system against
vandalism by those opposed to the SIRDO.
Strong opposition to the SIRDO was
encountered at both sites where the system
was initially introduced. As in many other
countries, in Mexico the provision of urban
land and services is influenced by political
considerations. Typically, community lead-
ers or groups recognize the need for
housing sites and/or services and organize
residents to make demands to politicians in
the ruling Government party. In response,
Government agencies seek to establish a
"patron-client" relationship with these
leaders by offering to subsidize urban





services in exchange for their political
backing. Usually the community receiving
the services is required to contribute labor
and money to the project as well. Private
companies also profit from contracts for
these public works projects. Through such
"clientelistic" politics, all parties can stand
to gain.

It is perhaps not surprising then that a
community-managed system such as the
SIRDO might initially be perceived as a
challenge by those having an interest in the
established way of doing things. Commu-
nity members with close ties to benefactors
worry that their position may be weakened
by such community initiatives. Some Gov-
ernment officials may be resistant because
they think such projects will make the urban
population less dependent on state support
and thereby increase their political indepen-
dence. And private firms may resent the loss
of profits from large public works contracts.
Added to the potential resistance of those
with vested interests in the status quo is the
natural skepticism that tends to surround
the introduction of any new technology and
where environmental benefits can only be
demonstrated through an educational pro-
gram.
There is, however, increasing support
among some Government officials for new
service delivery systems and technologies
such as the SIRDO because they stimulate
community self-help and are lower in cost
than traditional systems. This position has
grown stronger in Mexico as the Govern-
ment has become less and less able to
afford costly investments such as conven-
tional drainage systems. Furthermore, the
SIRDO has generated strong interest be-
cause of its role in reducing the risks of
environmental contamination and in educat-
ing the urban population about these
concerns. So despite some incidents and
harassment, the experiment went forward.
In October of 1981, to the astonish-
ment of the residents of the experimental
block, the first harvest yeilded nearly a ton of
fertilizer. Community members now needed
to organize the labor required to remove the
fertilizer from the chamber and to process it


for use or sale. This increased the workload
and required greater organization on the
part of the community. Thus the idea of
forming a cooperative was born. After
seeking information and technical advice
from several sources, the residents voted to
name their new cooperative Muchuc-Baex,
a Mayan term meaning "let's get together."
The fertilizer itself was named tierra bonita
(pretty earty). By January 1982, the Coop-
erative Muchuc-Baex was legally consti-
tuted with 18 members, 14 of them women.



Doha Lucero is a woman in her late 20s
who comes from a lower-middle class
background. She is trained in accounting
and holds a full-time job. She is articulate
and can both write and type (the only
Cooperative member with this skill). She has
two children. Her husband is a carpenter.
Because of her leadership abilities and
abiding interest in the SIRDO and the
Cooperative, she has been its president
since the beginning.






The Cooperative's first economic activity
was the sale of the fertilizer. This required
modest capital to purchase plastic bags,
labels, stapler, a scale and a few other
essential tools. The GTA offered several
small loans during this initial period to assist
the Cooperative and was later repaid in
fertilizer.
Members set to work extracting the
fertilizer from the chamber, mixing it with
earth, and putting it into one-kilo bags for
sale. Initially the mocking remarks of neigh-
bors ("crazy women playing with shit")
discouraged some women from participat-
ing in these tasks. Others, however, per-
severed and by the end of 1982, the
Cooperative was selling its fertilizer in two
main supermarkets in the city, bringing in a
small, but symbolically important income to
the group.
By September 1983, the GTA had
delegated most of the responsibility for
maintenance of the system to the com-
munity, the neighborhood's children had
written and performed their own play re-
counting the history of the Cooperative, and
Muchuc-Baex had reaped four fertilizer
harvests! The quality of the fertilizer was
evident both in kitchen gardens of the
members and through tests carried out by
the local agency of the federal agricultural
ministry (SARH). To promote its fertilizer, the
group used photographs of Dofia Lola and
the giant cucumber she had produced in
her garden.


Dona Lola is the only Cooperative member
who speaks Maya as a first language. She
comes from the henequen-growing zone
outside Merida. Abaondoned by her first
husband, Doha Lola moved to M6rida with
her second husband, Don Alvar, who had
been a peasant leader in their place of
origin. He works as a garbage collector for
the city. Both of them were interested in the
SIRDO from the very beginning, attending
all the talks given by the GTA before they
moved into the experimental block. Don
Alvar was interested in waste management
because of his job. Doha Lola was inter-
ested because she has always cultivated
her own kitchen garden to supply the family


with vegetables. She saw the system as a
way of improving her production and has
taken a leading role in experimenting with
the fertilizer in her own garden plot. The
giant cucumber is but one example pf her
success.


Operating the System

With technical assistance from the
GTA, eight Cooperative members operate
and maintain the SIRDO. In general, the
men carry out the heavier, periodic cleaning
jobs for which they receive nominal pay-
ment. The tasks associated with day-to-day
operation, which are not too time consum-
ing, are taken care of by the majority of the
neighborhood's women who do not hold
jobs outside the home. The maintenance
tasks are periodically rotated among mem-
bers on a voluntary basis. The technical
requirements of the SIRDO are spelled out
in the "Biotics Manual" provided by the GTA
which serves as a reference guide for
community managers.






While Cooperative members are now
convinced of the advantages of the SIRDO,
they also recognize that some problems
exist. Their housing development was not
designed with the system in mind, and its
piping and treatment sites occupy physical
space that is in short supply; nor is there any
work area for the maintenance operations
such as cleaning of filters. Other aspects
also could be improved: the cement covers
for the gray waters filters, for example, are
so heavy that women generally have to rely
on men to help remove them; and there is a
need for equipment, such as gloves and
masks, to protect workers from the fine dust
raised during the sifting and mixing opera-
tions.


The Fertilizer

To insure its economic feasibility, the
Cooperative's current need is to widen the
market for its fertilizer. Thus far they have
produced four harvests of about one ton
each-about half the maximum capacity of
their two units. Most earnings to date have
been re-invested in production (e.g., pur-
chase of earth for mixing) although small

M,4 # M


amounts have been distributed to members
based on the amount of labor contributed. In
the future they hope to improve their enter-
prise through the purchase of a machine to
mix the fertilizer and construction of a
warehouse for storage.
At this initial stage, the Cooperative is
willing to sell below real costs in order to
build a market for its product. The good
results achieved in their own gardens have
given them confidence in their product and
the patience to wait for demand to grow in
the long run. Currently most sales are to
middle class urban dwellers who use the
fertilizer for gardening. Cooperative mem-
bers hope they eventually can get it into the
hands of farmers to improve the quality of
their overworked soil. Fertilizer could even
be exchanged for foodstuffs needed by
members' families; however as yet they
have not found a mechanism to link them
directly to peasant producers in their region.


New Perspectives

Aside from the potential economic
return from fertilizer sales, Cooperative
activities take on a larger meaning for the
community. From the beginning, member-
ship has been made up almost entirely of
women, although several of their husbands
regularly help with specific tasks. In some
cases, husbands have tried to impede their
wives' participation, but the women recog-
nize the value of their collective activities
and continue to participate in the organ-
ization.


Doha Betty, her husband Don Tito, and
their children are all active in the coopera-
tive. Doha Betty is illiterate and has ten
children; she has never held a formal job.
Don Tito is a baker. They arrived in the
experimental block in November, 1981, and
began to take a personal interest in the
SIRDO when they witnessed, by chance,an
act of sabotage against the system. The
people who had closed the valves later
threatened them with a beating if they





revealed their identities. The incident
passed, but the couple became involved
more directly in the Cooperative afterwards.
For a time Don Tito was afraid of his wife's
involvement and even forbade her to attend
Cooperative meetings. Shortly after the first
fertilizer harvest, they had a fight over the
issue. Doha Betty made a decision to resist
her husband. While she had allowed him to
prohibit her from other activities in the past,
she saw the importance of her participation
in the Cooperative. "This," she told him,
"you cannot take away from me; it is helping
me to develop as a person." Now there are
four members of the family actively involved
in the Cooperative.

To these women the SIRDO provides a basis
for community solidarity that surpasses the
importance of the future income they hope
to generate. The Cooperative's president,
Dona Lucero, puts it this way:
Most people (in the Cooperative)
are not thinking about money. Before, I
lived in one place for eleven years
without knowing my neighbor's name.
After I moved here, I lived for three
years without knowing my neighbors.
If I don't know my neighbor and there is
an emergency in the middle of the


night, I can't call on her-nor can she
call on me. This is the greatest value of
the Cooperative. Here we are more
sisters than neighbors. If I don't have
money to eat, I'm not ashamed to ask
Dora Candita for two hundred pesos
or for some leftover tortillas (flat corn
cakes that are a staple of the Mexican
diet). The drainage system has done
this. If it did not exist, I can assure you
that I would be here all these years
without knowing my neighbors' names.
Community women stress that mutual
aid is now a practice that extends to virtually
all aspects of their daily lives. Cooperative
members work together in other activities as
well, including the collection of inorganic
garbage for resale and the wholesale
buying of vegetables from peasant produ-
cers. In 1981 they built a recreational park
for their children and convinced the state to
donate playground equipment.


Doha Candita was born on the island
of Cozumel, off the coast of the Yucatan
Peninsula. When her first husband aban-
doned her, she lived with her mother for a
time. A few years later her husband returned
and proposed that they be reunited. He took
her with him to live in M6rida. But he con-
tinued to drink heavily and to beat her on
occasion. Finally she decided to separate.
She found work preparing snacks like
tamales, antojitos and empanadas to sell to
cafeterias in the city. She would spend the
morning making them in her home and then
deliver them to her customers in the after-
noon. In this way she managed to support
her five children, all of whom have been able
to finish their schooling. Doha Candita her-
self can read and write only with difficulty.
Later she married again, but began to
have the same problems with her second
husband. Finally she told him she no longer
wished to live with him. When she moved
into the experimental block, she moved
alone. This was the beginning of a new,
more independent phase in her life. At first
she did not become involved in the SIRDO.
But as she watched the Cooperative take
form, she was impressed by the hard work
of the other women and of G TA staff. So she
plunged in and was elected the Coopera-

































tive's treasurer. From this position she has his expertise to oversee the system's
become involved in new experiences that operation and maintenance.
have increased her own self-confidence as
well as her effectiveness in working with the
Cooperative.


In February 1982, the GTA arranged
for Doha Candita to be invited to a meeting
of housing authorities in another state in-
terested in the SIRDO. Two years later, she
attended a national level meeting on hous-
ing sponsored by federal and state agen-
cies. She described for them the Cooper-
ative's experience with the SIRDO. During
five days, she was the only community
representative at the Mexico City meeting.
This experience increased her awareness
of the importance of what the Cooperative
was doing. She returned to M6rida deter-
mined to convince local authorities and
Cooperative members of the need to
maintain their commitment to the SIRDO.
She has also taken on an active and influ-
ential role,in Cooperative decisions.
In her forties, Doha Candita is the
eldest of the Cooperative members. Her
son, Miguel, is also an active member. His
interest stems from his course of study in
engineering. The Cooperative has relied on


The Second Setting:
The Valley of Mexico

A more recent pilot SIRDO project in
an urban community in the Valley of Mexico
has drawn on the lessons learned in Merida.
This zone, including Mexico City and its
surroundings, accounted for about 20
percent of the total Mexican population, or
roughly 13 million persons, in 1978. While
the population of the zone continues to grow
at an annual rate of about five percent, the
volume of wastes produced has grown at
the astounding rate of about 30 percent per
year! By 1984, this amounted to approx-
imately 13,000 tons of waste per day in
Mexico City, of which about one-third were
organic materials. On average, each resi-
dent of the city produces one and a half kilos
of waste products each day. An estimated
70-80 percent of these wastes are not
systematically recycled and pose a threat of






contamination to the environment. Approx-
imately 10,000 persons work informally in
the city's dumps or in the streets separating
wastes according to their resale value,
selling items for about one peso per kilo
(U.S. $1 = apx. 167 pesos) to middlemen
who in turn sell to industries for three or four
pesos per kilo. Alternative waste-manage-
ment systems like the SIRDO therefore
appear to be well suited to this environment.
The history of the community where
the second SIRDO pilot project is located is
distinct from the M6rida neighborhood.
Located near the northern margin of the city,
the community is managed by a coopera-
tive, begun in 1956, with more than 1800
low-income families. The Cooperative first
negotiated the purchase of an area for
settlement, then took charge of dividing it
into lots, opening streets, and assisting
residents to construct houses. Later it
oversaw the installation of the community's
own water system and electricity and the
building of schools, green areas and other
facilities. All this has made the community a
desirable neighborhood in comparison to
other less organized areas in the Valley of
Mexico.
By 1976 the problem of waste disposal
had become apparent. The community was
inhabited by about 18,000 persons who
produced about 240 tons of waste per
month. About one-third of this quantity was
collected by trucks; the rest was deposited
by residents in ravines, green areas, or
vacant lots. Open-air drainage also col-
lected in the ravines. As these deposits led
to contamination, the community began to
explore ways to resolve this growing prob-
lem.
The first option was a conventional,
waterborne drainage system, the cost of
which had been estimated at 26 million
pesos in 1972 (about U.S. $1 million). The
community was able to raise only two
percent of this amount over the next eight
years. In 1979 a new estimate by the
municipality placed the cost of this system
at 44 million pesos, without calculating
direct costs which would raise the sum to
nearly 60 million (more than U.S. $2 million).
By this time the Cooperative had managed


to raise two and one-half million pesos, or
about four percent of the total cost. Given
the impossibility of paying for the conven-
tional system, the Cooperative began to
seek alternative solutions. This is when it
came into contact with the GTA in Merida.
Early in 1982, forty members of the
Cooperative visited M6rida and attended a
meeting of the Cooperative Muchuc-Baex in
order to become familiar with the SIRDO.
Shortly thereafter, Cooperative members
voted in a general assembly to use the
money collected for the conventional drain-
age system to finance installation of a pilot
SIRDO, with technical assistance from the
GTA and other groups in Mexico City.
Community members explored financing for
the project's various stages. The pilot
system would serve 84 families settled on 40
lots surrounding a natural pond, as well as a
secondary school with about 80 students.
Experiments with aquaculture were to be
carried out in the lily pond.


Introducing the SIRDO:
Progress and Conflict

At the outset, only about 20 percent of
the population favored the new technology;
another half were doubtful or did not under-
stand how it worked. The remainder were
opposed. Nonetheless construction went
ahead over a period of 27 weeks and the
pilot system was inaugurated in December,
1982. Twenty-two community members
contributed their own labor; the direct costs
of construction came to two and one-half
million pesos (about U.S. $55,000). In order
to assist in preparing the community for the
new technology, members of the Muchuc-
Baex Cooperative developed a seven-
lesson course for users, promoters and
technicians. Adults and children attended
this course.
Immediately after the pilot system
began to function, two more sections of the
community requested consideration for the
next SIRDO. One group formed a committee
of 24 persons and named a treasurer on
each block to collect funds to finance the
project. The GTA began to prepare designs









for these two areas. A Technical Council
consisting of Cooperative representatives,
technical advisors and state and municipal
government personnel was formed to over-
see the new installations.
While these plans were getting under-
way, however, those opposed to the new
system were also organizing. They formed a
Council for Municipal Collaboration and
tacitly opposed construction of the new
SIRDO. They put pressure on the munici-
pality causing it to withdraw its offer of
support for the SIRDO and instead to
promise to construct a traditional drainage
system at a cost of 300 million pesos (about
U.S. $3 million). The atmosphere became
unpleasant as a director of the local primary
school prohibited two teachers from taking
their students on a site visit to the SIRDO as
a field lesson on the environment, and the
dome on the gray waters filter and the
grating on the chimneys of the decomposi-
tion chamber were broken by vandals. In
1983 the anti-SIRDO group was able to win
control of the Cooperative's directorship,
but the community itself remained divided
over the issue.
In contrast to the experience in Me-
rida, membership in the Valley of Mexico
Cooperative averages only about 30 per-
cent women. Since Cooperative statutes
permit only one member per family, repre-
sentation is usually by the male head of the
household. One woman reported being
prohibited from taking her absent hus-
band's place at a Cooperative meeting. In
contrast, the Merida Cooperative is based
on individual membership which permits
women to have a greater voice in collective
decisions. As one woman put it: "Some-
times I think one way and my husband thinks
differently. But both votes count." Despite
the limits to their direct participation in the
Cooperative, however, the women in the
Valley of Mexico have found ways to exert
their collective power in matters related to
basic community services, including the
SIRDO.
The Cooperative's new leadership
soon felt the women's pressure when the
community's water system failed. For weeks
the women bore the brunt of hauling water


long distances and deteriorating sanitary
conditions. A small group of women, who
previously had not even known each other,
called a meeting to discuss solutions to the
water problem. Systematically they organ-
ized neighbors in each zone within the
neighborhood until they succeeded in
ousting the Cooperative's directorate and
calling for new elections. They also suc-
ceeded in forming a commission to oversee
the work of the Cooperative's Directorate.
Six of the nine commission members are
women.
Once the water problem was resolved,
the commission turned its attention to other
community problems including road pav-
ing, green areas, and drainage. When the
municipal authorities showed up and began
to dig up the neighborhood streets to put in
the promised conventional drainage sys-
tem, the women resisted. Individual women
faced the construction teams saying, "you
will not dig in front of my house!" They were
backed up by a large group of women who
informed the officials that, "If you arrest her,
you will have to take all of us."The instal-
lation of the conventional system was
stopped. The women then pressed for a
paved road which would enhance the
installation and operation of the SIRDO.
During the first year following its instal-
lation, the SIRDO's primary merit was an
improvement in the environmental condi-
tion: fewer flies and rats now that garbage
and sewage no longer accumulated in the
ravine behind the houses. However since
only a small proportion of the neighbor-
hood's houses were connected to the
system, other sources of contamination still
existed.
As in Merida, the appearance of the
first harvest of fertilizer provided the needed
incentive for greater involvement by the
users. The fertilizer was tested by the state
water and sanitation company after the
residents used their ties to advisors to the
state governor (who favors the SIRDO) to
elicit its assistance. The tests initially
showed some germs remaining, so the
residents corrected this problem by further
drying and the addition of more organic
matter. By May of 1984, the tests had

























improved.
In the meantime, the SIRDO users
began to organize themselves for the tasks
of producing the fertilizer and planning new
productive activities. In March 1984, about
20 families connected to the system had
formed a more formal user's group called
the "Community of SIRDO Users" which
began to meet on a weekly basis. One
community resident, a medical doctor, also
began to train eight young men from the
group to maintain the system and collect
garbage. Given the large number of users at
this site, and the greater distances from the
houses to the chamber, this division of labor
was more attractive than the communal
system used in M6rida. The users agreed to
pay these young people a small wage,
based on the Mexican minimum wage, for
an estimated two to four hours work per
week. In order to cover this expense and
start-up costs for other activities, members
agreed to contribute 500 pesos (about U.S.
$3.00) to the group every two weeks.
Soon the user's group decided to
adopt a more formal organizational struc-
ture with elected officers and six specialized
commissions. The General Director and
Secretary are men, the Treasurer is a
woman, and each of the six commissions is
the responsibility of one woman. The group
also named three advisors for technical,
social, and administrative matters. These
are professional people who live in the
experimental block.


Each commission began to develop its
own set of activities. Commission I is in
charge of operation and maintenance of the
pilot SIRDO. Its principal task is to supervise
the young trainees who operate the system.
Commission II is preparing for the produc-
tion and sale of the fertilizer, which has been
named ABOSIRD Tierra Nueva (New Earth).
They have spent about U.S. $50 for a two-
color, silk-screened logo which will be
printed on the plastic bags containing the
fertilizer. The initial plan is to distribute most
of the fertilizer to SIRDO users and to sell the
rest to cover production costs. Already the
group has been approached by other
community residents who want to buy the
fertilizer for their own gardens. A market
survey is also planned to set an appropriate
price for the product.
The other four commissions have more
long-term objectives which are expressed
by the group's motto: "For a Self-Sufficient
Urban Community." Commission III is in
charge of planning productive activities
related to the recycling of plastics, metal and
glass. The group hopes to move towards
recycling most of the neighborhood's inor-
ganic, as well as organic, wastes. As a first
step, commission members consulted an
expert in plastics recycling from Mexico's
National University who is experimenting
with a technology to convert waste plastics
into useful products such as the plastic
tubing used for plumbing and for construc-
tion of SIRDOs.






Commission IV has the task of devel-
oping horticulture projects. Its members
began by planting a small experimental plot
of carrots, radishes, squash, onions, toma-
toes and herbs next to the chamber. Two
biologists from the local university have
provided advice, as well as seeds, on a
voluntary basis. The first garden was
planted without the use of fertilizer in order
to compare it with later yields. The group
now plans to expand the plots to other areas
surrounding the SIRDO. They also plan to
plant fruit trees nearby, beginning with trees
that have already been grown successfully
in the area, such as peaches, pears and
avocados. To irrigate these crops, the group
is building a large holding tank for recycled
gray waters from the SIRDO, with a pump to
allow year-round irrigation. The goal is to
have 400,000 square meters of land pro-
ducing food for the community's 23,000
inhabitants on a regular basis.
With assistance from biologists, Com-
mission V is developing plans for future
aquaculture projects using treated black
waters from the SIRDO. Plans call for


creation of four tanks for the various stages
of water treatment; 6,000-10,000 trout will
be raised in the fourth tank. Infrastructure
and community training necessary to
operate such a project is estimated to cost
U.S. $12,000, which must be raised from
outside sources. Initially the fish would be
consumed within the community and then
hopefully, with increased production, sold
for a profit.
The sixth commission has the delicate
task of overseeing waste management in
homes and caring for the environment.
These tasks are primarily social and educa-
tional. Committee members oversee the
composition of garbage dumped into the
SIRDO chamber and, when necessary,
suggest corrections. Another task of this
committee is to contact the 28 families living
in the SIRDO area who are still not con-
nected to the system. They encourage
these families to clarify their views on the
SIRDO and either decide to be connected
or waive their rights so that families on
nearby blocks, who have expressed an
interest in using the system, may do so.

































Growth and Change


All these new activities reflect a great-
er sophistication on the part of the SIRDO
users as to the need for effective public
relations within the community. SIRDO
users also have learned not to be aggres-
sive in their opposition to the conventional
drainage system favored by some commu-
nity members. Instead of proclaiming them-
selves sirdistas, they now advise neighbors
to base their decision on an analysis of the
relative merits of the two systems. They are
confident that the conventional system will
never be completed due to its high cost and
that the SIRDO will gradually win over
community residents as the income-gener-
ating activities take shape and environmen-
tal conditions improve. Within the commu-
nity there are already about 200 families
who wish to have SIRDOs installed on their
blocks.
SIRDO users also point out that the
system has brought about more unity and
communication among residents of the
experimental block than had previously


existed. Solidarity has been fostered by
their everyday communal labor, their work
on the commissions and their weekly
meetings. The SIRDO and its related activ-
ities have greatly increased women's visi-
bility within the community and their con-
fidence in handling community affairs. While
men continue to dominate formal decision-
making positions in the community, women
have increased their power through informal
pressure groups such as the water commis-
sion. Women represent more than half of the
membership of the SIRDO users' group;
they have the greatest involvement in the
day-to-day operation of the system, and
they head all the working commissions
created by the users' group. While they
have not yet reached the level of confidence
and independence achieved by the women
in Merida, the women of the Valley of Mexico
are emerging as a political force through
their involvement with the SIRDO.

Economic Potential

The potential economic return from the
SIRDO depends on the development of

































Growth and Change


All these new activities reflect a great-
er sophistication on the part of the SIRDO
users as to the need for effective public
relations within the community. SIRDO
users also have learned not to be aggres-
sive in their opposition to the conventional
drainage system favored by some commu-
nity members. Instead of proclaiming them-
selves sirdistas, they now advise neighbors
to base their decision on an analysis of the
relative merits of the two systems. They are
confident that the conventional system will
never be completed due to its high cost and
that the SIRDO will gradually win over
community residents as the income-gener-
ating activities take shape and environmen-
tal conditions improve. Within the commu-
nity there are already about 200 families
who wish to have SIRDOs installed on their
blocks.
SIRDO users also point out that the
system has brought about more unity and
communication among residents of the
experimental block than had previously


existed. Solidarity has been fostered by
their everyday communal labor, their work
on the commissions and their weekly
meetings. The SIRDO and its related activ-
ities have greatly increased women's visi-
bility within the community and their con-
fidence in handling community affairs. While
men continue to dominate formal decision-
making positions in the community, women
have increased their power through informal
pressure groups such as the water commis-
sion. Women represent more than half of the
membership of the SIRDO users' group;
they have the greatest involvement in the
day-to-day operation of the system, and
they head all the working commissions
created by the users' group. While they
have not yet reached the level of confidence
and independence achieved by the women
in Merida, the women of the Valley of Mexico
are emerging as a political force through
their involvement with the SIRDO.

Economic Potential

The potential economic return from the
SIRDO depends on the development of





productive activities by community mem-
bers. The GTA has calculated that 50 to 80
full-time jobs could be generated at the
Valley of Mexico site once fertilizer, aqua-
culture, and agricultural production are well
underway. The cost of producing the fertil-
izer can be reduced by more than half if
maximum use is made of community labor.
The M6rida experience has demonstrated
that a kilo of fertilizer which sells at U.S.
70-80 cents, can be produced for less than
an estimated U.S. 5 cents per kilo. Material
costs to produce four tons of fertilizer
accounted for only U.S. $250 per year.
Given the demand for low-cost fertilizer in all
parts of the world, including Mexico, there is
a clear economic incentive to maximize
fertilizer production.
Expansion

Six years after the first pilot project in
Merida was installed, the SIRDO has
achieved national visibility and credibility in
key sectors of the Government, the press,
and the academic community. The nation's
three principal newspapers carried out a
support campaign called "Operation SIR-
DO" beginning in June, 1984, that focused
on the system as the solution to problems of
environmental contamination in Mexico's
cities. Scientists from a variety of Govern-
ment and academic institutions have been
drawn into activities such as plastics recy-
cling, aquaculture, horticulture, and testing
potential uses for the fertilizer once GTA's
educational effort convinced them that they
should apply their technical knowledge to
the problems of low-income communities.
The GTA has also enlisted the aid of allies
within the Government in order to neutralize
opposition to the system from other official
sectors. In Merida, for example, the new
state governor and federal-level housing
officials put pressure on regional authorities
who were opposed to the system, with the
result that the state government agreed to
share with the community the costs of some
needed repairs to the system.
By 1984 the GTA was building SIRDOs
not only for grass-roots groups, but also for
the Government and the private sector. The


state oil company, PEMEX, intends to build
ten SIRDOs a year in its new developments
in order to protect the environment from
contamination. The federal urban develop-
ment and ecology agencies are beginning
to work with the GTA in several communities
and would like to build as many SIRDOs as
possible during the next year. University
students will be trained to work with com-
munities where these systems are installed.
With growing acceptance of the SIRDO
come new challenges for GTA. Current
initiatives include creation of workers' coop-
eratives to produce parts for the SIRDO,
thus providing employment for community
people who have participated in construc-
tion of the systems. The parts would be sold
to both the public and private sectors.

The Changing Role
of Technical Assistance

As responsibility for operating and
maintaining the systems is gradually
handed over to the community, GTA's role
becomes one of outside technical advisor.
The process is all part of GTA's goal to
design a system that would alter the rela-
tionship between user, technology and the
environment in order to foster collective
action as an alternative to passive depen-
dence on governments that often lack either
the will or the resources to respond to local
demands. In both Merida and the Valley of
Mexico, this transfer has entailed periods of
tension as community members begin to
assert their independence by reaching
decisions contrary to the advice of GTA.
After these experiences, GTA modified its
strategy of technology transfer in order to
reduce the potential for technical mistakes.
Before introducing the system, GTA now
forms a community Health Committee and a
Production Cooperative to be responsible
for decisions related to the system's pro-
ductive activities. A small number of com-
munity members are trained to operate and
maintain the system within the technical
limits established by GTA.
The two pilot experiences in Merida
and the Valley of Mexico demonstrate some

























E


.c
CU
E~ ,
a Iwo-
-


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of the problems and potential involved in
introducing new technologies. Community
acceptance of an innovation like the SIRDO
involves overcoming technical, social and
political obstacles. Because of their involve-
ment in managing household and commu-
nity wastes, the priority they give to a safe
environment, and their need for new sour-
ces of income, women play an important
role in promoting an understanding and
acceptance of a new technology such as
the SIRDO. Their participation in such new
activities catalyzes their collective organiza-
tion. Their effectiveness increases their
visibility and defines their voice in commu-
nity affairs. Finally, the potential of the
system to generate income through the sale
of fetilizer (and eventually fruits, vegetables
and fish) may offer women a greater oppor-
tunity for economic independence as well.

Lessons Learned

1. The introduction of a new tech-
nology depends on both technical and
social processes. This requires the long-
term commitment of community mem-
bers. Technical aspects of even sophisti-
cated systems can be readily understood if
appropriate participatory training methods
are used. In the case of the SIRDO technol-
ogy. the unique ecological features of each
site demand the active collaboration of
community members to adjust the technol-
ogy to the local environment. Planning and
organizing the productive activities associ-
ated with the system are even more com-
plex challenges which require communities
to assess their priorities and the competing
demands on their time and resources. It is
therefore important that technicians be
realistic in their understanding of the deli-
cate process of technology transfer.
2. The nature of community partici-
pation in waste management, or any new
technology, is a process that changes
over time. Learning to operate and maintain
the system, and educating skeptics about
its merits, took place during the first year.
The first harvest of fertilizer placed even
greater demands on cooperative members,
but also provided a tangible incentive for






greater involvement. Recognition of these
different phases in the process will help
communities to prepare for their growing
management responsibilities and will help
instill the patience to overcome residual
skepticism.
3. Women and the community must
see an immediate benefit in adopting a
new technology. The SIRDO's immediate
benefit is an improvement in physical
sanitation, which is of greatest interest to
women. While the system has the potential
to be a community-based income-gener-
ating activity, this is not an immediate
advantage. Therefore economic potential
should not be overemphasized at the
outset. Instead the environmental advan-
tages should be stressed and mutual
cooperation encouraged. Women's partici-
pation in the management of critical com-
munity services can increase their influence
in community affairs and in relations with
outside authorities. In Merida, the need to
operate and maintain the SIRDO, and to
handle fertilizer production, gave rise to a
new cooperative structure dominated by
women which developed a strong sense of
solidarity among women who previously
had not known each other. It also increased
their independence and confidence in
dealing with husbands and other family
members. In the Valley of Mexico, a strong,
pre-existing cooperative structure, domin-
ated by men, initially impeded women's
access to formal, decision-making power.
However, the SIRDO stimulated the creation
of new, less formal organizations in which
women have expanded their community
influence. Their growing consciousness of
the effectiveness of collective action has
spread to other areas of community concern
such as water management.
4. The cooperative structure enhan-
ces the ability of the population to
address other community problems and
to view them in a longer-term perspec-


tive. Learning to make collective technical
decisions builds confidence and analytical
abilities among cooperative members. The
use of recycled wastes to increase the
community's self-sufficiency provides a
dramatic lesson about conservation of
resources and environmental protection.
5. New technologies must be modi-
fied as the requirements of women's
participation in their operation becomes
clear. Since women, and young people,
generally take charge of household waste
disposal and sanitation, and are less apt to
be employed outside the community, they
are the ones who are able to devote the
necessary time to operating and maintain-
ing a system such as the SIRDO. The
system should be adjusted in such a way
that they can carry out day-to-day activities
without outside assistance. (For example,
some parts of the original system had to be
reduced in weight so that women and
children could handle them.) Children's
participation provides a unique educational
opportunity; not only do they learn about
environmental protection, but they can be
trained to carry out tasks such as routine lab
testing of fertilizer.
6. Responsibility for managing the
system must gradually be transferred to
the community, with sufficient outside
technical assistance to insure proper
maintenance. The introduction of a new
technology requires a strong initial infusion
of help from outside experts while commu-
nity members are gradually trained to take
over operation. As they take on greater
responsibility, community members must
build sufficient confidence to make deci-
sions independent of, or even contrary to,
the advice of outside technicians. Eventual
mistakes are a part of the process of learn-
ing to collectively evaluate and discuss
decisions. However, continual outside as-
sistance will still be needed to address new
technical problems as they arise.







Appendix


Parts of this description were taken from the project report entitled Documen-
taci6n y Evaluacidn de Experiencias Tradicionales y Alternativas para el Manejo de
Residuos Urbanos en Zonas de Bajos Ingresos en el Valle de Mexico by Fernando
Ortiz Monasterio, Josefina Mena, and Angel Parada, October 1983. The report was
written for the Mexico City working group entitled Mujer y Ciudad, part of the
Population Council/USAID project on "Women, Low Income Households and
Urban Services in Latin America and the Caribbean" of which Marianne Schmink is
the co-manager. For more information on the project, contact: Judith Bruce, The
Population Council, One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York, NY 10017.




Information about the SIRDO can be obtained from: Grupo de Technologia
Alternative, Calle Alamo 8-16 Col. Los Alamos, Jardines de San Mateo, Naucalpan,
Edo. de Mexico, 53230 Mexico (Telephone 393-7414).




Other sources of background information on the disposal and recycling of
wastes include the following:
Appropriate Technology for Water Supply and Sanitation: Meeting the Needs
of the Poor for Water Supply and Waste Disposal, by Fredrick L. Golladay.
Washington, D.C.: World Bank Technical Paper, 1983.
Food, Fuel, and Fertilizer from Organic Wastes. Report of an Ad Hoc Panel of
the Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation, Board on Science and Technol-
ogy for International Development, Commission on International Relations,
National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1981.
Low-Cost Technology Options for Sanitation. A State-of-the-Art Review and
Annotated Bibliography, by Witold Rybcznyski, Chongrak Polprasert, and Michael
McGarry. Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre.






Regional Organizations Providing
Technical Assistance

Africa
Blair Research Laboratory
P.O. Box 8105
Causeway
Harare, Zimbabwe

Technology Consultancy Centre
University of Science and Technology
Kumasi
Ghana
Attention: Dr. J.W. Powell

Arusha Appropriate Technology Unit
P.O. Box 764
Arusha
Tanzania

Asia and Pacific
Action for Food Production (AFPRO)
C-17 Safdarjung Development Area
New Delhi -110016
India
Attention: Mr. Raymond Myles

Khadi and Village Industries Commission
Gobar Gas Scheme
Irla Reas, Vile Parle
Bombay 400-056
India

Ministry for Agriculture
Division of Soil Science
Kathmandu
Nepal
Attention: Mr. Joshy

South Pacific Appropriate Technology
Foundation
P.O. Box 6937
Boroko
Papua New Guinea


Latin America
Pan American Centre for Human Ecology
and Health
P.O. Box 249
Toluca
Mexico
Attention: Dr. Stephen W. Bennett

International
Tool
Mauritskade 61 a
1092 AD Amsterdam
Netherlands

International Reference Centre for
Community Water Supply and Sanitation
P.O. Box 93190
2509 AD The Hague
Netherlands









Design: Ann Leonard
Typography: Village Type and Graphics
Cover Photo: Marianne Schmink
Printing: Graphic Impressions, Inc.







































We invite your comments and your ideas for projects which might
be included in future editions of SEEDS. If you would like additional
copies of this issue or would like to be included on the SEEDS
mailing list, please write to:
Ann Leonard, Editor
SEEDS
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163 U.S.A.

















































































































%:- Bo. .%V 3 Grand Central Station, New York, N.Y 1I1O




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