Panama: GeoAzul and the EcoSolidos programme - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Resocialize
Panama's La Joyita Prison accommodates more than four thousand inmates. Six years ago, rubbish covered the ward floors. Sick of living in these conditions, the prisoners teamed up with Franklin Ayón, an agronomist and recycling expert, to set up a programme to recycle the rubbish. The result was EcoSólidos, a prisoner-run programme that turns rubbish into something useful.
Around 90% of the prison's waste is now being recycled. Plastic and aluminium are compacted, sorted and stored to be sold; food waste is turned into organic fertilizer for the prison's gardens, which in turn provide fresh fruit and vegetables for the prisoners.
«We set ourselves the challenge of turning the problem into an opportunity. EcoSólidos was born in the prison cell blocks. Our motto is the four R's: reduce, reuse, recycle and – we've added one of our own – resocialize," said Franklin Ayón.
When prisoners get out, they face many challenges, in particular re-entering the jobs market. That's where Mr Ayón's GeoAzul comes in. The non-profit organization supports the EcoSólidos Resocialization Programme in La Joyita Prison, which helps former prisoners to reintegrate into society. GeoAzul specializes in collecting and processing urban waste in Panama City. On average, it processes more than ten tonnes of waste every day and employs around 360 prisoners, successfully reintegrating them into society through environmentally friendly work.
Building on the success of Ecosólidos, the organization is looking to expand the recycling programme. GeoAzul hopes to be the benchmark for prisoners who have been released or are on probation and looking for their first job.
GeoAzul takes responsibility for former prisoners with the aim of demonstrating the skills that they have and how they can be effectively reintegrated into society. Around 800 prisoners have been employed and around 3,000 people – mainly members of their families – have indirectly received the benefits of their employment. GeoAzul hopes to become a leader in job and reintegration opportunities – using environmentally friendly practices to transform people's lives.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provides guidance to the prison authorities in Panama on prisoner living conditions and hygiene, maintaining and building facilities, and how to build capacity at the recycling plant and help even more workers. We also provide supplies to keep the programme running, such as tools, gloves, boots and bags.