RecycleMania in Nicaragua

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In Nicaragua, everyone simply tosses their garbage onto the streets or out the car or bus windows. That is the tradition and it even irks the very people who are taking part in it. In the last year there has been attempt to clean up the cities, towns and countrysides and make Nicas conscious of throwing their trash into bins instead.

And so we have noticed metal cans on stands being installed sporadically on main streets, for that purpose. There is no doubt that some locals and most tourists are trying to be responsible and make use of them.

Many of the ventilated metal containers that we have seen, for some reason have the bottom cut out of them or the bottom is rusted out, making them useless. Although some people are obviously trying to develop their clean habit by conscientiously making use of them and just allowing their trash to drop through onto the ground below. At least it is all in one place right!

It’s difficult to change habits though. As an example, a few weeks ago we are sitting at a public park where an older lady who sells products there, walks over to one of the metal garbage containers and leans on it while she takes a break and eats some food. Once done, she turns to go back to work and simply drops the plastic bags and food leftovers on the ground right next to the empty bin. At least it’s all in one place right!

SO — now to the pic I have posted above. This was the first time Anne or I have seen a set of labeled recycle bins in Nicaragua.

You will notice that one is for Organic materials. There is no bin. Maybe it disintegrated from the compost process. Remains of food products — chicken and fish bones, fruit skins, sticks and plant matter (along with animal excrement) are scattered everywhere. But they like the metal recycle bin for organic material, soon disappear.

Next is for Plastic. They use a ton of plastic bottles and bags here. In fact the joke is that the National Flower for Nicaragua, is the plastic bag. Almost all food and product is delivered and eaten from clear and more often colorful plastics bags. But what is this bin filled with? Cardboard, tin cans, and the same stuff that is in the other bins.

Then we have Glass. Quite simply, Nicaraguans don’t use glass for anything they’d be walking around with. For a fact there are tons of glass soda pop bottles containing cheap pop, in circulation. But you’d never get your hands on them.

The vendor pours the liquid into a plastic bag for drinking and returns the bottle to the manufacturer. You can request a straw be inserted into the knotted bolsa (bag), but most just bite a small hole in the end and suck the liquid out— then throw the bag on the ground. But what is this bin filled with? It has some plastics and a lot that resembles what is in the other containers.

Lastly is the bin for Cardboard and Paper products. Like glass, we don’t see a lot of product distributed in paper or cardboard. Mostly it would be furniture or a TV that would be packaged in such materials.

However, it wouldn’t be thrown out. Cardboard and paper would be used over and over again— or would find its way to the home of the thousands who live in plastic shacks and line the inside walls with flattened cardboard boxes. Noticeable everywhere are vendors selling pizza or other food products out of old well used pizza boxes.

Well surprisingly… in this scene, there is cardboard that was still unclaimed in the Plastics bin

And unsurprisingly… in this scene, the paper bin has the least garbage in it. What it does have is the remains of a typical Nicaraguan meal – chicken, rice, salad, and a tortilla — all Organic Materials, as would have been purchased, scooped onto a styrofoam plate and then packed in a colorful plastic bag. The full meal obviously included a bottle of juice as well.

We know; give it time and such a garbage and recycle program will have success. But for now, this scene couldn’t have illustrated the current situation any better.

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