Quito (Ecuador), 22 December 2022 – Cocaine production has reached a new high in recent years. Transit countries such as Ecuador are seizing increasing amounts on their way from Andean producer countries to consumer markets in North America and Europe.
The over 200 tons of cocaine seized in Ecuador in 2021 give evidence to successful interdiction operations but also pose a challenge: how to destroy such large amounts – with a black-market value going into billions of US dollars – as fast as possible to avoid their reintegration into the illicit market?
While incineration in purpose-built furnaces is a safe option used regularly, at times the sheer volume of yet another multi-ton cocaine seizure exceeds the incineration capacity installed in the country. The cocaine would have to be secured for weeks or months waiting for incineration, at considerable cost.
To address this challenge, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) developed guidelines and supported the Government of Ecuador and a private sector partner to adapt a rapid, cost-effective and environmentally friendly disposal method to dispose of large amounts of cocaine – encapsulation.
Cocaine, cement, sand and water are mixed in a special ratio and used, for example, to build concrete platforms for storage facilities at a waste disposal plant. During setting (hydration), the cement reacts chemically with the other material present and forms a stable, hard and impenetrable matrix. This prevents the recuperation of the cocaine or its seeping into the ground. While the destruction of 10 tons of cocaine can take up to two weeks, the same amount can be encapsulated safely within a day.
Having received training on the UNODC disposal guidelines, judges in Ecuador authorized encapsulation as a new, supplementary method for cocaine destruction in April 2022. On 28 October 2022, the method was successfully used to dispose of 32 tons of cocaine in Ecuador in a two-day session. Similar disposal exercises are planned in the coming weeks, vastly increasing the disposal capacity available to the government to cope with peak seizure volumes.
The UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Service provides the technical expertise to countries looking to safely dispose of seized drugs. Currently, UNODC collaborates with Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru through its programme on Solutions, Training and Advice for Narcotic Disposal, which it implements with the financial support of the United States Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Learn more about the UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Service here.