Communities Field Note

Abstract: Can you imagine a world without recycling programs and public trash cans? Mérida, Venezuela doesn’t have many of either of these. Come learn all about what people in Mérida do with their garbage!

Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community and if so, is it easy for people to access?

Garbage Pick Up Day

There are very few places to recycle in Mérida, if there are any at all. In fact, I haven’t seen any places to recycle in the other places I’ve visited in Venezuela. The only things that people recycle here are glass bottles. Instead of sending them to a recycling center like we do, they take their bottles back to where they bought them originally. Every time you buy something in a glass bottle there is an extra charge for the bottle. When you return it, you get that money back. It is a really nice incentive for people to recycle. What do you think about recycling? Do you do it at home without being paid? Do you think people should be paid or have to pay to recycle?

What is the public sentiment about the state of the environment, and do young people think they play a role in protecting the environment? If so, how?

Most people I have talked to are disgusted by the trash in the streets. It is a major problem in Mérida. Did you know that Mérida used to be known as the “Cleanest City in Venezuela”? I would never have guessed based on how dirty it has become. I can only imagine what the state of other cities in Venezuela are like.

Even though many people that I have talked to don’t like the trash, they don’t do anything to change it. It amazes me! They just wait for the government to fix their problem. I think the best thing to do is take a problem into your own hands and help fix it!

Looking down the mountain…do you see the trash?

Have you ever cleaned road ditches or parks? My family in the United States used to clean the ditch near our home, just because we wanted it to look nice. Would you do that or would you have to be asked? Most Venezuelans, especially the ones I have met in Mérida, are very proud about their natural beauty. They live in beautiful mountains, rivers, different types of unique plants and animals, and even desert-like areas. However, they haven’t done much to keep these areas clean and healthy. Also because of low gas prices, most cars are not very efficient and the air quality is not that great. How is the air quality where you live?

What innovative solutions do you observe, or hear people talking about?

I haven’t heard anyone come up with innovative solutions to their trash problem. Some of my friends who are from the United States, and are used to a cleaner environment, have tried to think of some solutions. However, I may have asked the wrong people the wrong questions. I’m guessing that someone is trying to improve the waste management systems here. Although, it appears to me that people are waiting for the government to step in and take care of this issue.

Have there been changes to environment laws lately, or have new systems of solid waste management been introduced in the past five years?

There haven’t been many changes to environmental laws that I have heard about. I do know, however, that there has been a lot of work going into making sure clean water is available. Some people have purified taps in their homes now, but most of the water systems contain parasites. This makes tap water unsafe to drink.

A big problem with this is that most people need to get clean water in plastic bottles. Bottled water is not only more expensive, but it is also not good for the  environment because they don’t have programs to recycle all those bottles!  A bottle of water costs about $2.00 USD.  It’s very expensive! What do you think about not having free, clean water? When you go to restaurants and don’t want to order juice or soda, you can ask for water and it is free in the U.S. Here, it costs money everywhere!

Are there any youth groups, community organizations, NGO or INGOs actively working to address solid wastes management issues in your community? Who are they and what are they doing? What can we learn from them? If possible, take a field trip and check out their work!

Streets after a political rally

There are not many groups that work to clean up places around the city. However, there are some employees that get together to clean up the parks in Mérida. There are parks everywhere in Mérida, so this is essential. After big rallies and festivals, there is always a lot of garbage and within a week it is all gone. I’m not sure if this is caused by the traffic that moves through the streets afterwards and blow the trash away or if people pick up the area. Either way, it is out of sight. I hope it is picked up because then it is dealt with a little better than being “swept under the rug” by moving vehicles.

There is also a waste management company that picks up garbage once a week. They go to different neighborhoods on different days. I found this to be very similar to the system in the United States. How often does your garbage man come? The major problem with these garbage trucks is that they have four men working. One drives, one sits next to the driver, and two pick up garbage.  There aren’t arms that lift trash cans into the truck, because there aren’t trash cans here. People set their bags of garbage on the street, along with some loose trash and then each piece has to be picked up by hand and thrown into the truck. It takes a while and isn’t very efficient.

Non-garbage pick up day

Fast Facts:

Trash cans located on public streets? Yes, but trash cans don’t have any bags. They are metal baskets with big holes and only full trash bags should go in them. There also aren’t very many trash cans and they are most commonly found in park areas.

Individual Homes Recycle trash? No, although some homes reuse their water bottles and boil water to purify it. Some homes also reuse tupperware containers from ice cream or margarine to store leftovers. How does your family recycle?

Grocery Stores charge money for plastic bags? Grocery stores don’t charge money for plastic bags and they give out plastic bags often.

Grocery Items are heavily packaged with plastic? No, there isn’t an excessive use of plastic packaging with grocery items.

People drink tap water? People rarely drink tap water because most tap water isn’t filtered and it contains parasites.

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