Monday, September 14, 2009

Alternative Recycling

One project that I think would interest you working in the area of alternative recycling in order to manage trash. Countries like Guatemala don't have the infrastructure in order to offer recycling collection programs. Furthermore, recycling materials requires a lot of energy to convert these materials into materials which can be used in the production process. Also, it requires a lot of energy to collect and transport these materials.

Here in Guatemala we're faced with basically no recycling programs outside the larger cities, very few sanitary land fills, a whole mess of illegal dumps, a custom of throwing trash on the ground and/or burning it, and little to no education regarding the evils of poor trash management. Poor trash management causes malaria and dengue fever outbreaks, respiratory and intestinal infections, parasites, cholera, y un largo etcétera. Mixed with extreme malnutrition, these complications stemming from poor trash management can end in the death of children. This has created a need for inventive ways to manage trash and one thing I would like to highlight in this blog is the use of eco-bricks for use in construction. An eco-brick, or eco-ladrillo, is a plastic bottle stuffed with inorganic trash like plastic bags and Styrofoam. While these things would otherwise end up in the local water supply, an illegal dump, or burnt inside the kitchen poisoning the land, water, air and lungs of young children and their mothers, some communities are using these things to build schools, bathrooms, benches, houses and walls.

I've become connected with an NGO, Pura Vida, out of San Marcos La Laguna which is a beautiful community located on the shores of Lake Atitlan. They were the first ones to develop the use of eco-ladrillos here in Guatemala. The Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) who served here in my site before me build a two room schoolhouse out of eco-ladrillos and I had the pleasure of helping construct another one in a village about 45 minutes northeast of me. My congratulations to a fellow PCV who put that project together. Now I'm working with Pura Vida to update their construction manual and highlight other projects realized by PCVs around Guatemala.

All of this has really opened my eyes to alternative forms of recycling and reusing trash. Huge need for more schools + a load of trash in the streets = more use of eco-ladrillos. I've presented to schools and hospital staff on the use of eco-ladrillos and I feel as if things are starting to catch on. I'll be giving another presentation in a town about 5 hours away from me where a PCV is working with a group of women who want to build a kitchen to serve schoolchildren in this village.

Regardless of the outcome of any of these projects or ideas, trash management is something we all have to think about. I just read a NYTimes article today on the state of our tap water in the U.S. and how many water sources are polluted and not meeting EPA standards. What we personally choose to put in our bodies or what we breath, air poisoned by thoughtless companies and fellow citizens and ourselves, is the business of all of us no matter where we call home. I have to refer to the wonderful essay "Tragedy of the Commons." There is no technological solution to these problems. We're headed for disaster if we think we can simply solve any problem with the latest gadget or chemical solution. We simply have to stop doing what we know is wrong and what we know is damaging ourselves, our children and future generations by altering our actions and educating young people.

I'm not saying eco-ladrillos are a sustainable part of the solution. It's just an immediate solution to a long-term problem and I hope that one day there are not heaps upon heaps of trash in the streets which we can turn into construction material. I just think it's a creative way to use our waste to avoid a big problem we're currently faced with here in my site and many other pueblos all over Guatemala.

One thing I would like you all to remember is .... UNGOWA!!

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments and questions.

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