An unintended effect of developing country is their ability to recycle most things. Waste is a luxury of the rich. Here (and I imagine most developing countries) most people cannot afford drinks or products in plastic bottle form so instead most things are sold in bags. For example the majority of liquid cleaning products are not sold in ready to use spray bottles but in plastic bags. In need of a device to dispense the product most people take an old litro de coke, poke 2 holes in the cap and now it’s a spray bottle for your cleaner. When you buy a refresco (fresh juice) to-go from a vendor they serve it to you in plastic bag knotted at the top with straw and not in a plastic cup with a lid. My family ordered a pizza to be consumed at our house (a rarity reserved only for a special occasion) and we received it plastic wrapped on a metal tray that we had to return once we were finished. To a person unfamiliar with this form it may appear less appealing. Why? Most bottles for cleaning products are thrown out upon final use. Having the brand name on your drinking device or being served your food in numerous disposable containers doesn’t change its taste. I can only assume these things are considered less appealing by some because they have the stigma of being a product of the impoverished.
A bottle that once held body spray is now reclaimed to hold kerosene for the grill, used 3 liters (that’s not a typo) of Coke or Fanta are cut and painted to make light shades, ripped stockings or worn cables become clotheslines, old botellas (plastic bottles) my mother reuses to store water in case of a shortage or they are cut to become planters, glass bottles from beers or sodas are sent back to the distributor to be washed and refilled. Here little is wasted and most everything is reused. Recycling programs don’t exist because they don’t need to, it’s an inherent part of the culture. It makes me think about the worth of things and the difference in value systems between cultures. I understand that most things here are recycled due to a necessity directly determined by the wealth of the culture and not out of concern for the ever growing environmental issues caused by the abundance of waste (evidenced by the ubiquitous volume of trash). In the states people recycle not because they cannot afford to waste a product, in fact most products have a “consumer pays” recycling tax added on to the cost at time of purchase. We recycle because we feel that we are doing our part to curb some of those environmental ills. Maybe the more important thing is to change how and what we consume to produce less “things to recycle” and less waste. I don’t say this to discourage people and devalue their efforts to recycle. My concern is with the way things are packaged which is equal parts industry and consumer. As consumers I surmise that if the burden of the actual costs associated with the waste created when we throw out a bottle or box was bound to the consumers and the industry the demand would change. In turn this could cause the industry to find new cost effective and profitable methods of packaging goods that would not have the same toll on our world.
“La basura!” Manuel yells from his rocker stationed next to gated door. Its usually about 7am and everyone is getting ready for work or school. Maria is the kitchen cooking as Manuel hears the approaching bells of the dump truck and yells for the second time “la basura” this time with a bit more urgency. Maria begins to talking to herself reflecting but of course saying it loudly enough that the guilty parties can hear. “Cada dia, cada dia. Nadie, nadie, nadie. Sola yo saco la basura, sola yo (everyday, everyday, nobody, nobody, nobody. takes out the trash, only me). I cant help but laugh at this, thinking that this Nicaraguan family supposedly so removed from the “developed” US having this same fight that I can remember my family having.
Trash a dilemma that has no borders. When I first arrived in my house here, I was sitting with all of the kids who live on my street enjoying popsicles on the curb. Upon finishing every single kid threw stick and wrapper into the street. I was shocked, but I was new and I wasn’t sure yet how to approach the subject without being culturally insensitive. All the time see people throw their trash out the window or on the ground. When riding the crowded buses the “agua, agua, agua” vendors sell their bags of water or juice to the thirsty passengers, who finish and immediately launch it out the window. Walking with Rafa (a scholarship student and farm manager for Fenix) to make copies I purchased some “orange juice” and once she had finished she launched here botello on the ground. I felt that at that point in time we had established a good enough relationship that I could broach the subject of litter. So I stopped walking and stared at the botello and at Rafa. Once she realized what I doing and that I was upset she burst out in laughter. She told me it was okay because it was already dirty with other trash. I requested she pick it up and hold on to it until we get to a public garbage can (a rarity here). Once back at the foundation she told the story to some of the other students, laughing about how silly I was being. This is not the first, nor will it be the last. It is behavioral and it is not exclusive to the street. Countless times Gabriella or Andreita or Dianita throw their trash to the ground in their own homes. Of course this is exclusive to the children but when the act is committed in front of the adult who inevitably will later be the one to sweep it up, nothing is said, the behavior stands unaltered. And thus the litter culture is born.
When living in NYC, I couldn’t stand the amount of trash everywhere. Walking with Alex he would always say to me when I would get upset about the trash that “trash begets trash” meaning that the more trash people see, the more they will add to it. This behavior is exemplified in my recounting my walk with Rafa and it stands true to reason. Most cities from NYC to Ciudad Sandino employ individuals to walk the streets and sweep up the litter. People justify litter and waste through the existence of litter and waste. And being around all of this waste it made me think more on another point Alex would bring up which is that waste is waste and why should it matter if its in the street or in a dump. He surmised that if more trash was in the street the waste accumulation would reach a point where people would realize its negative effects and reduce their personal waste in total. I now have to agree, it’s all waste and its location shouldn’t hold so much weight in my abhorring thoughts (and this is repeatedly reinforced since being here). This doesn’t mean that I now condone littering. I will continue to call out my co-workers and family for littering the streets because I don’t think that anyone should ever have to clean up other peoples waste. I will eternally be disgusted by the site of trash along a highway with what could be a priceless country view. But I now recognize that my problem is less with the litter and more with the waste. If we had to live in our waste wouldn’t we be more likely to repair and reuse rather than throw out and by new?