TBY talks to Gustavo Manrique Miranda, President of Soluciones Ambientales Totales (SAMBITO), on the environment, sustainability in agriculture, and ambitions for the coming years.

Can you tell us about how the ban on single-use bags plastic materials came into existence and your thoughts on expanding these types of environmentally friendly initiatives across the country?

First of all, we have to view nature as a global warehouse; every aspect of the modern world is, at some level, derived from the natural world. We have to recognize and accept this fact, because this state of consciousness allows us to develop the proper structures for dealing with this. In the best case scenario, the products we derive from nature end up in a legitimate landfill, but in other cases these products and waste materials are dumped into the natural world. Thus, we have two problems: The warehouse that is mother nature is slowly becoming emptier and the waste products from the global industrial economy are going straight back into the environment. The single-use bag ban is designed to create a balance between supply and demand while also protecting the natural world by requiring that these types of products are created using 70% recycled materials. We can, therefore, rely on nature for only 30% of the inputs needed to continue producing because the remainder is coming from materials present in the economy. These products are primarily products that are not being used with foods and other consumables. However, we are developing the ability to utilize recycled materials in a host of products that have traditionally used totally fresh inputs. We are looking to lower the total pressure being put on the natural world while supporting industrial and economic production. The bag ban is the first step in getting the city and the country to move in this direction—after Guayaquil, the country should follow. We want to be a sustainable model that the National Assembly can look to as they craft the national legislation. We believe that within 36 months we can transform this area of the economy with phasing out plastic bag and utensils and straws. After plastic bags, we will phase out other products like straws over the next three years.

Can you tell us a bit more about how SAMBITO serves as a facilitator to players in the public and private sphere?

SAMBITO is a holding that is an ecosystem of interests dedicated to promoting ways of doing business that save the planet. In 20 years, we have completed 2,000 projects. We are strong in both the technical and commercial aspects of the industry, and our focus on the latter is what really sets us apart from our competitors. Every year, we visit 2,000 companies, which is almost seven companies per day. Out of these companies, perhaps 400 articulate an interest in our services and 100 sign contracts with us annually; thus, we sign a new contract around every three days. We operate across three four business lines. First line is our consultancy business. The Ecuadorian Constitution enumerates specific rights for the natural world, giving us a large umbrella of various businesses for us to consult on the regulatory requirements. Our second business line relates to everything that is voluntary; we have signed more than 50 contracts for carbon-neutral companies. We created the first and only platform that connects nature to lawyers, and we have supported the defense of numerous causes on a pro bono level. The third line of services relates to the support and development of the environmental industry. This is where our water company comes into play. This company takes water from industrial waste, treats it and then returns it to the natural world. Fourthly, we organize the Latin American Green Awards (LAGA), which provide an opportunity to put a spotlight on the people that are taking actions for the environment. The UN is the main strategic partner for this event, together with the municipality of Guayaquil. SAMBITO is the organizer of this event, and we exhibit, reward, and connect the best 500 projects from Latin America. In the latest edition, 2,733 projects were subscribed from 713 cities across 38 countries.

What are other notable environment initiatives that you have launched?

We are the executive director of the national recycling corporation of tires. For 2018, our target is to recycle 2.4 million tires. We can transform 60-70% of these materials into energy for the concrete and other industries. We also represent a US German company called FMS, which creates products that allow industries using diesel fuel to reduce their CO2 emissions by 15%. We have another partnership with a German investment pension fund, and we are heavily involved in reforesting. This means we are in the business of producing oxygen. Finally, we organize the Latin American Green Awards, which provide an opportunity to put a spotlight on the people that are taking actions for the environment. This spotlight is organized with the UN, and we exhibit, reward, and connect the best 500 projects from Latin America. In the latest edition, 2,733 projects were subscribed from 713 cities across 38 countries.

Can you tell us more about the digital applications you are developing?

In Ecuador, there are penal consequences for extreme non-compliance with environmental laws. Thus, we created an app, Nikola, that allows organizations to keep up with their environmental targets. The app also allows firms to announce what they will do in terms of the regulations and it allows for the government to verify compliance. We are the first company in the world to develop a digital environmental assistant like this.

What is your approach for maintaining a high level of sustainability in the agriculture and aquaculture cacao and banana sectors?

Moving toward sustainability in these industries is a matter of survival. The white disease we faced in Ecuador was the result of a high-degree of exploitation facing our soil and water; nature was letting us know that something was wrong. We had to let it rest for a while, and since then our agriculturalists shrimp farmers have switched to more sustainable techniques and approaches. The industry also has to understand that treating its human capital better is valuable for the entire industry. Almost 50% of Ecuador's economy is dependent on agriculture. We have to focus on adding value, and we have to help our growers learn and develop by supporting them and teaching them the best techniques. No one supervises traditional farmers, whereas organic farmers are highly scrutinized and regulated. We really need to review this system of incentives and the current structure for the agriculture industry. People are being pushed away from organic, and there is an urgent need to reassess this. Most agricultural workers and industrialists want to be sustainable, while consumers are conscious.

What are your ambitions for the coming years?

Here in Ecuador, we have a law requiring that colors corresponding to nutritional components and ingredients be added to food packaging. This has changed the way food is purchased and consumed. Next, we should have a similar color system for packaging's food's environmental impact. This system will allow consumers to make informed decisions about the environmental impact of their purchases. We are working hard on these projects, and we believe that it will change the habit and culture of the nation. Another project is the 'Uber for recycling' which allows neighborhoods to collectively recycle waste. Our dream is for landfills to become mineral mines of the future.