HomeNewsConcrete Cocaine: Ecuador's Pioneering Drug Destruction Method

With historic levels of cocaine seizures happening across Latin America, how can governments safely and quickly get rid of the drugs they confiscate? The Ecuadorian government has found a novel solution.

In a process called “encapsulation,” authorities pulverize bricks of cocaine hydrochloride into tiny grains using heavy machinery. Next, the powder cocaine is mixed with cement, salt, and chemical accelerants, among other materials, to form a slurry, according to Edmundo Mera, Undersecretary for Drug Control at Ecuador’s Ministry of the Interior.

The fluid mixture is poured, molded into concrete slabs, and left to dry for just a few hours before it completely hardens. In the final state, it is impossible to extract the cocaine from the solid blocks of the material.

SEE ALSO: Ecuador: A Cocaine Superhighway to the US and Europe

Through October 14, Ecuador had destroyed nearly 180 tons of drugs in total, and 61% of the drugs seized this year were destroyed through encapsulation, Mera explained in an interview with InSight Crime.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has previously provided guidelines on encapsulation as a way to dispose of drugs and hazardous material used in drug manufacturing, but Ecuador is the first country to use it to destroy cocaine on such a large scale, Martin Raithelhuber, an illicit synthetic drugs expert at UNODC, told InSight Crime

InSight Crime Analysis

Scaling of encapsulation operations could impact the future of drug destruction for governments across Latin America, and Ecuador is doing its part to prove how effective the process can be.

Incineration through ovens and environmental managers is a safe option that has long been used in Ecuador. But this method requires very specific machinery. “Cocaine does not burn well. It’s important to burn it in a suitable incinerator that can reach those high temperatures to get rid of the unwanted exhaust gases and substances formed,” said Raithelhuber.

Furthermore, just a few tons of seized cocaine can quickly exceed the country's incineration capacity. Authorities are forced to store cocaine for weeks or months while waiting for incineration. Encapsulation is currently used to supplement incineration but has already proven a viable process for several reasons.

First, encapsulation allows authorities to destroy 1,500 kilograms per hour, whereas incineration is limited to approximately 70 kilograms of cocaine in the same timeframe, according to Mera. A series of attempted robberies on police warehouses storing seized drugs in Quito, Guayaquil, and Tena, highlighted the insecurities that accompany not being able to destroy seized drugs rapidly.

SEE ALSO: Huge Ecuador Cocaine Seizures Signal Growing Role in Drug Trade

The ramped-up speed of destruction is crucial in Ecuador, where the law stipulates that judges must be present during drug destruction. Drastically shortening the time this process takes means authorities can get back to doing more substantial work instead of serving as a witness for drug destruction.

Second, faster destruction means potentially lower costs for Ecuador. Encapsulation can destroy cocaine ten times more quickly than incineration, according to Mera. Less money can be spent on the equipment and personnel needed for destruction as well as the security to safeguard seized drugs in warehouses, among other costs.

Third, while incineration is a rigorous process that follows strict environmental regulations, Ecuador’s encapsulation is also an environmentally sound method. “The cocaine is so well encapsulated in these concrete slabs that it cannot leak out into the environment; something you want to avoid,” said Raithelhuber.

The Ministry of the Interior has contracted environmental managers to oversee the process from mixing drugs and cement to the final disposal of the slabs and encapsulation facilities located outside populated areas, further minimizing the risks of contamination.

Encapsulation, however, is not a one-size-fits-all solution. “We want to identify good practices and share them with other countries in the region facing similar problems to see how they can use or adapt the methodology in their context," warned Raithelhuber.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

COCAINE / 8 FEB 2022

Officials in the United States have revealed that former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández is in fact included on a…

COCAINE / 4 MAR 2021

Strategically located between Argentina and Uruguay, Rio Grande do Sul is a hub for contraband and drug smuggling.


Dominican authorities recently intercepted a cocaine-laden speedboat destined for Puerto Rico – the latest in a series of maritime seizures…

About InSight Crime


Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…


World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…


InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…


Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…


‘Ndrangheta Investigation, Exclusive Interview With Suriname President Make Waves

2 DEC 2022

Two weeks ago, InSight Crime published an investigation into how Italian mafia clan the ‘Ndrangheta built a cocaine trafficking network from South America to ‘Ndrangheta-controlled Italian ports. The investigation generated…