July 21, 2008

If you bag it, they will come

recycling by horse cart, La Ceiba, HondurasHorse cart full of recyclables -- saves gas, too
La Ceiba, Honduras

A lot of us lament the fact that there is no organized recycling in Honduras (at this time that I know of). But if you live in one of the medium to larger cities and towns, if you bag it, they will come.

trash, La Ceiba, HondurasI was a big recycler in Dallas and was very involved in getting my neighborhood to do the same − pretty successfully if I do say so. So when I came to Honduras and had to throw that first Coke can in the trash, I felt terrible. Over the months and years, I didn't get over feeling bad about throwing cans and plastics into the trash. I couldn't get used to it. Finally, after we were living in our house, one day I noticed the trash men opening the trash bags and digging through them before they threw them into the truck.

I had seen a man looking for food in the trash before when we lived in an apartment (and fed him) but these men weren't looking for food, they were looking for plastic!

trash, El Porvenir, HondurasSo, El Jefe talked to them and told them that we would save our plastics and cans in separate bags and put them out alongside the trash. They were very happy about that. We can only imagine what a horrible job it is to search through our nasty trash.

I rinse all the plastic and metal refuse and put it in a small bag hanging in the pantry. When it gets full we take it down to the garage and sort it into two larger bags, one for metal and one for plastic. When these are full, we put them out for the trash men. Rinsing and sorting may be more than you need to do, but it takes less than a minute a day out of my life and costs nothing.

Tela, Honduras, trash in ditchI'd like to encourage all of you expats in Central America, or anywhere where there isn't organized recycling to talk to your garbage collectors about whether they recycle. They can make a few extra pesos by selling these things and you can feel good about not contributing to the mess that we all complain so much about.

If you don't have garbage collection or they aren't interested, ask around your town. There is bound to be someone who collects recyclables for sale. A once a month trip to drop it off when you are going to town anyway is not a big deal.

trash, La Ceiba, HondurasIn countries where there are so many extremely poor people, sometimes all you have to do is put the bag on the curb and someone will pick it up for the little money they can get for it. Once they find that source (you!), trust me, they'll be back. Maybe your or your neighbor's maid or gardener would like to take it to sell. We don't have any neighbors close by and
people rarely are walking on the street, but whenever we want to get rid of old paint, scrap metal or wood, really anything, all we do is put it on the curb and it disappears like magic! One man's trash is another man's treasure. We don't have to be filling the landfills with things that people can use.

Who more than we gringos who so loudly lament the litter in Central America should take that extra step to do something about it? Talk to your neighbors, or better yet, their kids about what you are doing. It takes such little effort to collect the things. Rinsing is optional, but I recommend it to avoid attracting bugs to your kitchen or garage. Don't make excuses. Just do it!

trash in Tela, Honduras beachThose small steps won't solve the littering problem because you aren't the one who is littering, but it is a start. The more people who recycle, the less trash there is to litter the streets, rivers, and ocean. Plastic bags are one of the worst offenders, so try carrying cloth or other reusable bags with you when you shop and maybe you'll start a trend. Decline all those unneccessary bags and you'll save the vendors some money, too. (Please see the eye-opening article from Panama in the link above.)

Those bad habits of littering and not recycyling can change. I was so encouraged by this article from Playa del Carmen, Mexico,
How are we doing? Take a look at it. People can change!

We can go from this:

trash, La Ceiba, HondurasThis photo could be taken in any colonia in La Ceiba

to this:

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