Mycorrhiza (Live Exhibit)

Just as the mycorrhiza constitute the networks of roots and fungi in symbiotic relationships sending signals within forests, the relationships among people is what makes cities and societies communicate, collaborate and therefore, function sustainably.  This project aims to tell the stories of circular care and how relationships are at the core of closing material loops. Though the majority of the literature points to the use of technology and industrial ecology for circularity, the stories of those in unpaid and undervalued jobs are the true essence of circularity. Deciding to repair is a political act of a deontological nature towards society and planet. In Latinamerica, repair jobs are dying away. Cobblers, sewers, electromechanics, recyclers have fallen victims to anything ‘fast’, fast and cheap fashion, electronics, consumer goods. We want to capture the stories and wisdom of those holding on to care as a core value for society, applying frugal and social innovation.

Watch the summary video here or get immersed in the stories below.

Ecuadorian dumpsites

Ecuador has over 221 municipalities and the majority must treat their waste separately. The map below shows the locations of these dumpsites and landfills. Sadly, Galapagos is not the exception, though they do ship most recyclables to the continent, 3 landlfills exist.

 At the same time, social movements are counteracting the destructive nature of the take-make-dispose economic model by radical acts of repairing and sharing information and materials. One of such movements is Trukana, a bartering platform where people from around the capital, Quito, and rapidly growing into the whole country trade services and materials. From their Facebook page, we collected and processed the data of over 2140 exchanges. The nodes seen in the network show which materials and services were mostly shared by size. The network has broad categories such as furniture and services that are interactive so it is accessible to identify what is being traded and revalued. Incoming connections refer to what was received whereas outgoing connections refer to what was given in exchange for the product or service in question.  Click to join the group.

The methods for this work took a qualitative approach, to map locations and acts of repair and care. We began mapping and asking others to map the people in these trades in their neighborhoods. We began collecting some of the stories through a geographical sample in Ambato, Ecuador building a database while asking how people began this work and what motivates them.

To zoom into territory and how these small acts are making a difference, we interviewed entrepreneurs, artisans, repairers and recyclers in the city of Ambato. This has become a directory. Below are their locations and contact information so that anyone can look up where to fix anything (even ceramic saints). Following the map link, anyone can add the locations of the services they provide to be added in the map. The numbered sites include the video interviews that are also listed below.


Some of these actors’ remarkable stories are highlighted below. Audio is in Spanish and paraphrased translation to English is below each video. If you prefer to watch as a sequence of videos, the playlist is here

For three years we have this startup which is now a company called ‘Huella Verde’ and seeks to give solutions to make it possible to generate no waste and above all to reuse.

What you see now is our dream come true, a food court with reusable plates. We first got rid of the garbage cans because they didn’t work, particularly for the organics. We do it manually but it is much better this way. Our biggest challenge is single use cardboard glasses, they are not recyclable even though most people believe they are.

Jorge Caluña - Cromavisión

I have been working in this for 35 years, like most people before I was an apprentice for 18 years.

Our governments don’t care about protecting the citizens so here we get sold anything the importers want to sell and they only bring the cheapest things, they bring garbage.

All the scrap that is thrown away per ton around the world goes to China, you can see videos of people doing this manually. Everything is put back in as they have the technology so they can extend the life of a product and they sell it again. To buy a spare piece there are several options: refurbished, original and the generic one. Good sellers from abroad when you buy a spare tell you: this is removed from one device, this is new original and the other generic but amongst the generic there are the good quality and the others that are rubbish.

Nancy Criollo - President of the Waste Pickers Association Guaytambitos

When my husband passed away, I was all alone with my kids. My mother and sister in law used to go to the dumpsite to get food for the pigs and they asked me to come along one day that they were crying. We went to the dumpsite and someone from the large paper company said they would pay us if we picked the cardboard and paper. It was little, in sucres (Ecuadorian currency beofre dollars) and he said it was a gold mine. I went back home so excited that I had a job!

Luis Llambo* - Recycler

I worked for a company making PVC for 18 years here in Ambato. I now dedicate half of my time to recycle polyethylene and half to making PVC products. The industry here does a very poor job of classifying plastic because they only show high or low density polyethylene when in fact the formula is much more complex than that, making it difficult to recycle.

I believe it would be better to differentiate between the work of waste pickers and recyclers so that there is better training for both.

I work with the social and solidarity economy of chocolate and it is very hard to access credit. When they hear I am a recycler then they question how much I can make. We need help. However, most of the time, they will not consider helping us unless we join a political party

Christian Llambo* - OrganiC

Not agriculture but agroecological systems and particularly the symbiosis among plants are very new for many people and it seems the majority are scared to try to grow without chemicals. They believe nothing will grow but it will. It is matter of getting people unscared of the process. I started all this with my composter. Producing all that soil required a conduit for something to do with this material. And now I am helping others build their own gardens.

*Luis and Christian Llambo are father and son. They work next to each other in their home.

Sol Jaramillo - Leafpacks

This all started at a pachamanca, a festival for the solstice or equinox, I cannot recall exactly, but the whole point was that we were being grateful to earth (Pachamama) but the food of the pampa mesa, this shared meal from everyone’s offerings, was being served in single use plastics. It felt so incoherent. It was then that we decided to do leafpacks. I had seen videos of products made out of leafs to make dishes in India and we went looking for similar fibers around the country. We were lucky to find this mechanical engineer in Ambato who let us borrow a press that he used to make shoe soles and it worked! The best part is these fibers do not have to be grown, they are collected as a byproduct of another crop and would otherwise be burnt.

Francisco Valencia - Mechanical restoration

Ambato is the center of the country and as such, it has always been a market where any number of people gather. As people mobilize their cars and machines, they get damaged so all sorts of repairers have also come here to the center of the country: mechanics. The best craftsmen in the country are here in Ambato but it is expensive to repair. My degree is in restoration and I am in the capacity of rebuilding machines, creating parts.

Edison and Geovanna - Froyurt

I studied a technical career 13 years ago and only now am I applying this knowledge [due to the pandemic]. Because milk is a delicate product, the packaging also makes a difference. If I use plastic, I won’t lose, but the planet will. Since we do not have a recycling culture, the only place plastic ends up in is the garbage. Through our product we are promoting a culture of reuse

Carlos Barona

Out of 100 guitars, 99 I can fix. I will make them work!


Imagined and Directed by Melanie Valencia

Mapping and editing: Juan Diego Navas and Melanie Valencia

Data Analysis: Melanie Valencia, Juan Diego Navas and Catalina Lemos – Quito Desperdicios Cero

Mentors: Pablo Cabrera-Barona, Oana Branzei

This work could not have been possible without the ASU Leonardo Imagination Fellowship and the connection of the 3 sisters within and further by the Environmental Racism is Garbage Virtual Symposium

Thank you to all those who opened their doors for the interviews

Thanks to those who practice circular care. Let’s amplify your work.

Please feel free to reach out

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