Sometimes, innovation involves nothing more than turning a negative into a positive, a weakness into a strength, or a problem into a solution. That’s the case with Trash to Paradise, a low-cost, mid-size water treatment system located in the Tijuana River Watershed – a fragile ecosystem stretching across 1,750 miles in Mexico and the U.S.
A non-governmental organization, Trash to Paradise uses recycled materials and wetland plants to transform sewer water into ‘gray” (not suitable for human consumption) water. However, the gray water can be used for irrigation and to help clean up polluted areas within the delicate watershed.
“Trash to Paradise was formed at the National Science Foundation’s San Diego Incubator for Innovation in 2013,” said Ideator Bianca Alvarado. “A group of concerned citizens from the San Diego and Tijuana areas joined together for the purpose of creating a system that could use trash to combat pollution in the watershed.”
What’s the Problem?
The Tijuana River Watershed provides a critical source of water and habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife. However, the watershed is vulnerable to harmful pollutants like motor oil, fertilizer, and plastic trash that can enter through storm drains and flow into the estuary and then the sea. The watershed’s four large reservoirs also disrupt sand delivery to the coast, and sediment used in urban development can fill in wetlands and reduce habitats for native animals. Keeping slopes vegetated around homes and businesses can help prevent sediment from entering coastal wetlands, but coming up with the water to nourish vegetation in the dry environment is no easy task.
What’s the Big Idea?
Trash to Paradise alleviates pollution in the watershed by creating an artificial wetlands system that safely recycles black (polluted) water into reusable gray water. By repurposing plastics, used tires, and other types of trash that are currently being disposed of in the watershed, Trash to Paradise provides an efficient, easy, and inexpensive way to build aesthetically pleasing artificial wetland filters that help protect the environment.
Where Is It Headed?
Trash to Paradise’s long-term vision is to expand beyond the San Diego/Tijuana region and help communities in developing countries recycle their wastewater into irrigation water for green areas and fruit trees. Funding will come from offering their service to companies, governments, and other parties that want to install a wastewater filtration like the one currently in use at the watershed.
“The hardest part has been implementing the idea,” said Alvarado. “Fortunately, Ideator has served as a professional mentor for Trash to Paradise in our challenging start-up phase. In particular, the Ideator team has provided useful marketing feedback on how to create our video and identify a crowdfunding page to meet our needs.”