Havana’s “Eco-friendly” Car Wash

By Leydis Luisa Hernandez Mitjans   (El Toque)

The water used in the car wash process passes through a series of canals and filters in order to be recycled. Foto: Ismario Rodríguez

HAVANA TIMES – He’s not the old fisherman who is always trying to catch something that might seem uncatchable in a sometimes-stormy sea. He isn’t Hemingway’s Santiago; but Ernesto Rivero Suarez makes a living off of water in Cojimar.

About seven years ago, he created the La Ecologica Car Wash, which makes use of a system not used anywhere else in Cuba, he claims, allowing him to clean and recycle greywater and rainwater, in a continuous and closed cycle, so that they can be used to clean cars without using drinking water.

“It’s incredible how humankind evolves; I have always been a Nature enthusiast, but making a financial profit was my priority before,” the mechanical engineer says, his eyes glazed over as he loses himself in not-so-distant memories.

Everything changed for him “by chance”, when a neighbor and friend told him about a Permaculture course one morning that was being taught at the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation. Ernesto Rivero had hardly heard of the term before and he wasn’t really interested at all, but he ended up “being dragged along” and now he applies what he learned there in every aspect of his life today.

“Basically, permaculture is becoming Nature’s friend, respecting its processes, appropriating them, and from this point of view, trying to make sure everything you do helps to look after it, making the most of its resources. It’s a matter of choosing a responsible lifestyle, that goes beyond just yourself.”

The dull tone of his voice doesn’t take on a discursive tone to explain how he understands this branch of eco-friendly design; however, his face becomes more serious when he highlights the fact that permaculture also has elements that have an ethical foundation, that help us to understand that Nature is a lot more than what meets the eye.

“I remember when I finished the course and I set up the car wash, my teachers screamed blue murder thinking that all the lessons had been wasted on me. Just imagine, I had just graduated and I began a business that would need between 3000-5000 liters of water on a normal working day.”

Nevertheless, according to his own statements, it was thanks to the Foundation that his whole life view changed; that’s where the idea for creating a system for his business that wouldn’t use drinking water came from.

Without resorting to false modesty, Ernesto claims that his car wash system “is simple and anyone can implement it if they have a minimum of resources and a great desire to save.”

“I have built rainwater harvesting spaces around the house, this is then channeled through pipes to a 5 cubic meter cistern, and then this collected water is then pumped to an overhead tank that supplies the water we use in our work.”

Ernesto also clarifies that this is a closed cycle and, therefore, the water used to clean the cars is “recovered”; that is to say, this industrial water passes through a grease trap and a gravel filter to then return to the cistern and be used again.

With Cuba having suffered severe drought in recent years, the innovator couldn’t only depend on rainwater, so he has set up two plumbing connections to separate blackwater waste from the rest. “Water from the sink and shower pass through the same system, so I can also use that to wash cars.  To tell you the truth, I have more water than I need,” he says smiling.

He decided to patent “his invention”, taking heed of acquaintances’ recommendations and his friends’ insistence. But, he says that the bureaucracy killed him, that he got exhausted half-way through the process and decided that he doesn’t care if people copy him in the end. In fact, he would like that.

“If only everyone could apply this system in their everyday lives, as well as many other things. There is so much to be saved. Everyone thinks about material gain, but very few people are concerned about the price being paid for them to improve their financial situation. I believe that it’s important to broaden our view and understanding of life.”