“To know our refuse is to know ourselves. We mark our own trail from past to present with what we’ve used and consumed, fondled, rejected, outgrown.”
― Jane Avrich
Basura…garbage…it is one of the first things most tourists see and comment on when visiting Nicaragua. A Google search “garbage in Nicaragua” led to more than one million hits! We still have a long way to go, but I have seen many positive changes in Nicaragua in the area of waste management.
Let’s Get Real about Garbage in Nicaragua
Beside our baseball field, I noticed a huge collection of plastic waste ready to be recycled. Last week, when we crossed the lake, the ferry transported these bags to the mainland to be recycled. This was cause for celebration because our Ometepe Island refuse goes into an open-air landfill, where it is eventually burnt. Until recently, plastic bottles and other things came to the island and never left. According to figures from local environmental groups on Ometepe Island, Ometepe is visited by an average of 50,000 tourists per year, and at least 10 million tons of plastic enter the island annually. With that amount of plastic coming to la isla, I fear that we may sink unless we get a grip on our garbage.
The Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia are hard at work collecting and recycling materials. Check out their story here. My only objection to this article is this sentence, “Then they began to go out on bicycles to pick up garbage along the roads tossed out by tourists, selling the materials to a middleman.” Tossed out by tourists?? I don’t think so.
Most tourists visiting Nicaragua are appalled by the garbage along the roadways. When riding the chicken buses, it is an everyday occurrence to see locals toss their garbage out the windows of the buses. When the neighborhood children visit and I give them a packet of cookies or candy, they toss the wrappers on my front lawn, then I have to explain to them that I have a garbage can in my house. All the more reason for education in the schools about how to deal with our garbage on Ometepe Island.
If you are wondering what Nicaragua is doing to recycle, check out this website: Recycling in Nicaragua.
In honor of Earth Day 2015, Rosario Murillo ( Daniel Ortega’s wife) said,
“The Nicaraguan government, with the support of the Italian organization Africa 70, inaugurated a US $700,000 recycling plant in Chinandega. The new plant has an annual processing capacity of up to 2,300 tons of waste, has created more than 1,000 new jobs, and is reducing environmental pollution. We are celebrating Earth Day with more clean energy, increasing recycling and reforestation. We are taking specific steps to protect Mother Earth.”
Now, that is cause for celebration!
When people have coconut husks or hunks of broken blocks, or even old toilets, they are used as fill for the roads that wash out during heavy rains that leave gigantic crevices behind. Pretty clever and I guess you could say it is a form of composting.
But, the most creative form of composting I have seen in Nicaragua is at Selva Negra Eco Lodge where they reuse the coffee wastewater to generate methane gas, make compost from the coffee pulp, and fuel the kitchen by coffee husk. This is the sustainable impact of what they do and it is fabulous.
One of the biggest success stories in waste management is the La Chureca Project funded by Spain. La Chureca was the largest open-air garbage dump in Nicaragua where 250 families lived and worked in unsanitary conditions sorting and selling garbage.
Now, Churequeros (garbage collectors) work in a modern waste treatment plant, Spain built homes and a school for the families, and the landfill is no longer exposed to the air.
This is what it looks like today. La Cureca Waste Recycling facility.
Change is possible! My favorite photo La Chureca before and after.
4. Disposing of waste materials or Where are the garbage cans?
We used to have garbage barrels on Ometepe Island. There was a barrel for glass, organic material, paper, and metal. For about a month, all went smoothly. The barrels were filled with the appropriate garbage and emptied regularly. But, after a month, the barrels were overflowing with no order to the garbage. Finally, someone stole the barrels. The photo above shows what it looks like today. The photo below is San Juan Del Sur on Easter weekend 2014.
The Vice Mayor in San Juan Del Sur explained the lack of garbage cans in the city like this:
When the city HAD trash cans:
1. People were stealing the trash cans, even if they were chained. (Yep! Same thing on Ometepe Island)
2. People who do not want to pay for trash service were coming from out-of-town to put their garbage in private trash cans of those living in the city, which multiplied the amount of garbage in the cans.
3. The people who lived in the city, with the comfort of having a garbage can right outside their houses or businesses, were putting garbage in the trash cans at all times, not listening to the advice from the Mayor’s Office that they must coordinate putting out their garbage with the 4 daily pickups that the city does. This left many garbage cans full to overflowing, with the trash cans filled at night as well, causing a health problem.
4. The health problem was magnified by people who would search through the cans for empty cans and bottles, not caring whether they knocked some garbage out on the ground. In addition, dogs and cats constantly knocked the trash cans over, leaving piles of garbage in the streets and creating a very ugly situation and a big health hazard.
This response was from Matagalpa:
GARBAGE COLLECTION. While the article above is from San Juan del Sur, the answers given by a city official are parallel to Matagalpa. While living in Matagalpa, you watched for the garbage truck [which rang a loud school bell to announce that they were coming] … you then brought out your plastic sacks of garbage as the truck neared the entrance to your home. Why? Dogs! If you didn’t want your garbage sack to be torn into shreds, thus having to clean up the horrible mess left behind by the dogs, you patiently waited for the garbage truck. I DID ask my landlady why there couldn’t be one of those trash posts [barrel soldered to the post) placed on the side of the street. Her answer was simple: (1) it takes very special permission to have one placed near or on your property – more trouble & $ than it is worth, and (2) people will steal the barrel.
How can we resolve the issues of our waste management problems when people continue to steal the barrels?
May 2015 “The mayor’s office of Managua reported that 6,000 tons of garbage had been removed from the city’s vast system of open storm sewers in preparation for the beginning of the rains but in many cases the public had thrown more garbage into them since they were cleaned.” Nicaragua Network
So, although there are many wonderful programs for waste management in Nicaragua, we still have a long way to go. The Vice Mayor of San Juan Del Sur suggests that foreigners understand that “Nicaragua is not like our home countries. Because of cultural differences, the solutions may seem strange to us. And because of these same cultural differences, problems will likely be treated differently than we would treat them.”
Personally, I’ve learned a lot about the culture of Nicaragua from the garbage that is strewn everywhere.
What is it with shoes in Nicaragua?
We mark our own trails from past to present with what we have used and consumed, fondled, rejected, and outgrown. I hope that the trails we leave behind are only footprints.
Happy litter-free trails to you!