After helping residents in Puerto Rico for the past year recover from Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the island in September 2017, a group of faith-based social entrepreneurs from the U.S. and India think Puerto Rico’s energy future and economic health is in its trash. They have a vision for economic recovery and prosperity that starts with turning the island’s waste into biogas and organic fertilizer.

In January the group will conduct feasibility studies in three municipalities—Aibonito, Orocovis, and Villalba–to determine whether they have enough waste in their landfills that can be converted to biogas for electricity. “If you make one model and you do it right, they can duplicate it everywhere,” said David Aviles, New York-based CEO of the United Clergy Task Force. “This is a way to get out of this mess with garbage.”

Puerto Rico generates 1,420 pounds of garbage per person annually which amounts to 40,000 tons of waste to fill 32 open landfills, most of which are not in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards, according to Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Municipalities spend about $500,000 a year to collect and dispose of their waste. “We could process that waste, produce electricity and sell it to the grid. The municipalities then get money from local grid operators. They can also dispose of remaining waste as organic fertilizer,” said Deepak Gadhia, Founder of Gadhia Solar and Trustee at the renowned Muni Seva Ashram in Gujarat, India.

Gadhia is leading the feasibility studies which will determine: how much waste is generated; how much energy can be produced; how much biogas would be used for cooking versus electricity production; how much fertilizer could be produced; the cost to generate electricity with the biogas; the cost to reserve land for biogas production; whether the biogas system could be combined with solar photovoltaic systems; and how much manpower the biogas system would require.

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