Abstract: Like most countries, Chile is trying it’s best to develop and keep up with everyone else. Yet in that race to the top, it’s important to remember that sustainable development gets you further than reckless development.
Introduction: During my time in Chile, I’ve noticed more than a few differences between how the U.S. takes care of trash and how Chile does. It’s been surprising to see what waste services Chile lacks and offers, some even more efficient than in the U.S.
1. Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community, and if so, is it easy for people to access?
Viña del Mar has brought in some large (and by large, I mean bigger than the average horse!) recycling containers. However, because of their size, they seem to be mainly used by large companies or stores. The hole to throw your recyclables in is above most people’s heads! The placement of these behemoth-like recycling bins seems to be fairly haphazard. There’s one outside of my metro station, but not outside of every metro station, and although Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are almost the same city, the bins seem exclusive to Viña.
They’re not really accessible either. Families could save their recycling and put them in the bins later, like what my family back home does in our apartment complex, but there doesn’t seem to be any incentive to. People can’t be sure where these recycling centers are, and even if they were, it’s a real pain to walk up and down a hill slogging a heavy bag just to throw it away.
2. 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?
Chile is actually a very environmentally active state, but right now they’re more focused on preventing environmentally unsafe projects instead of cleaning their environment now. Chile is home to some beautiful and fertile lands, and it has and still causes conflict to this day.
In the southern tip of Chile, there is a group of native peoples called the Mapuches. They have always been deeply connected to the land, in fact, their name means “people of the earth” Mapu meaning earth and che meaning people. They are fighting to keep their land unspoiled and untouched, going as far as even torching the trucks trying to haul lumber out of their land. The general public is very aware of the problem, and many agree with the mapuche by organizes marches, strikes and painting their slogan all over town. Yet when it comes to keeping their own city clean, people are pretty content with how things are going.
3. What innovative solutions do you observe, or hear people talking about?
One nice solution is a bottle exchange. When people go into minimarts or grocery stores, they have the option to buy a re-used bottle. You pay a little more money than usual, which you get back when you return the empty bottle. It’s an interesting type of recycling, but it’s also pretty small scale. If it expands though, it would make a huge impact. Although the tap water is safe to drink in Chile, people rarely take advantage of it. They prefer carbonated water, juice or delicious fruit smoothies. In the first few weeks of my time with my host family, they often pointed out how much water I drank. They said I must be part fish! If all of these bottles were re-useable by the stores, companies and people, it would take a lot of trash out of the garbage cans.
Another type of ‘recycling’ that is common in Valparaíso is re-using the old plastic bags people get from the supermarket. Baggers in supermarkets tend to double-bag everything, even if it’s as light as a bag of chips! All of these bags end up back in the household, and people use them instead of your common “Hefty” bags to tote out their garbage. This system actually works well with how they dispose of trash. Most people don’t have huge trash cans to hold all of their waste, so instead they put it all in small supermarket bags, and hang it from hooks on trees, poles and holes in the ground. It’s not necessarily an innovative way to use the bags, but at least they aren’t left to collect dust in some forgotten corner of the kitchen!
4. Have there been changes to environmental laws lately, or have new systems of solid waste management been introduced in the past five years?
The latest law passed that has to do with the environment and public health was the tobacco law. Before this law, people were allowed to smoke pretty much anywhere, in stores, in restaurants and outside. This new law states that you must smoke outside, to limit the impact of second-hand smoke. Even though this new law is a hassle for most people, when I actually talk to smokers the majority agree that it is better for public health. A Chilean friend of mine actually pointed out that it would make the city a bit safer, since people would now go outside, on the otherwise-deserted streets to smoke.
5. Are there any youth groups, community organizations, NGO or INGOs actively working to address solid waste 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!
They are actually quite a few volunteer organizations that are trying to clean up the city and the ocean. My study-abroad program works with a group that cleans the beaches every weekend called “Surfs Up.” They provide a really important service. Because smoking is still allowed on the beach and because Valparaíso is a port town, the sand is littered with cigarette butts as well as any trash that has been dumped off the huge ocean liners that dot the horizon. The sand can be pretty unpleasant to walk on, but thanks to groups like these, people get the chance to fully enjoy the ocean view!