Communities Field Note

Keeping Santiago Clean

Abstract: What happens when you throw something away? The answer to that question is different in every country. The trash we create and the way we take care of it can change our future forever. Learn how the Dominican Republic is handling its trash and what that means for the country’s future.

Introduction: How do nations meet their communities’ needs?

Every community has needs such as good roads, clean water and police officers. Nations across the world have different ways to meet these needs. Can you think of some examples? Creating laws, spending money and calling on private citizens to act are just a few ways a country can meet the needs of its citizens.

For example, the Dominican Republic pays teachers in order to provide kids’ education. The nation creates traffic laws to keep people safe. Also, the government talks about violence against women to stop violence in families.

Sometimes, there are obstacles in the way. Poor nations do not always have the money or the resources they need to make effective changes. Also, it is very hard to change individual behaviors. Progress can be slow. However, even the smallest amount of progress can change the lives of millions of citizens.

What community need did I learn about?

One day I was sitting in my room, when all of a sudden, I smelled smoke. There was so much that I covered my nose. I went to the window to see what the problem was. I could see smoke rising from the hill behind my house. The residents of that community, who are quite poor, were burning garbage off the hillside.

Trash on a hill

Burning garbage is just one form of waste management. Waste management is how people get rid of trash. Some ways, such as burning trash, are extremely dangerous to the environment. Other ways, such as recycling, help reduce our negative impact on the planet. Why do you think it is important to reduce our impact?

I spent this past week learning about what happens to trash in the Dominican Republic. I see a lot of what happens for myself every day. I see trash on the streets and trash dumped into streams. I see the garbage truck come by our neighborhood.

Yet, there’s a lot about trash that I don’t see. Where does the trash go when the trucks pick it up? What are people doing to change things? To answer those questions, I had to do a little research.

Why does the community have this need?

Waste management is a need in the Dominican Republic because everyone produces trash! It can be a problem in this country because it can be expensive to get rid of trash properly. The Dominican Republic struggles with poverty and meeting other basic needs of its population. The government may not have the money or the expertise to properly meet this community need.

Neighborhood Trashcans

For example, litter is a big problem in Santiago. Some residential communities like mine have trash cans on the streets. The city center also has many trashcans. However, this is not the case for many neighborhoods in Santiago. When there are no trashcans nearby, it seems easier just to throw trash on the ground.

Many common practices create even more trash. For example, individual homes do not recycle trash. Another example is plastic bags at grocery stores. Grocery items are bagged in many plastic bags. Grocery stores do not charge money for plastic bags. These plastic bags are thrown away and take a long time to decay into the earth.

The pollution caused by improper waste management is one reason why people in the Dominican Republic cannot drink the tap water. Therefore, waste management in dangerously affecting lives every day. This is why waste management is an even greater challenge in the Dominican Republic than in wealthier nations.

Is this need being met? How?

There’s a long way to go before the need for proper waste management is met in Santiago, but there’s been progress. Households cannot recycle in Santiago. Instead, household garbage is taken to one of hundreds of dumping sites like the one behind my house. Sometimes it’s burned. Sometimes it just sits there and rots. A lot of recyclables get dumped into trash landfills.

However, many people try to do their best to reuse on their own. My coworkers described their efforts to reuse things like bottles in their homes to be more environmentally conscious. Also, while there’s no recycling in Santiago, the government is starting a recycling program in the Colonial Zone of the capital, according to a local newspaper. This is a sign of change to come!

When I first came to Santiago, I constantly saw a catchy jingle on TV. The jingle, called “I Love My Clean City” was created by the government. In it, people sang about how they kept their city clean by trying to throw away trash instead of littering. Why do you think the government decided to make a jingle to deliver this message?

Litter on street

Also, the government recently passed a new environmental law. My coworker, a law student, explained that even though this law was passed, it hasn’t changed much. People don’t really know about the law and aren’t interested in learning. If people aren’t informed, waste management practices cannot improve.

Dominican youth will be the source of change. Many youth today aren’t interested in the environment, but things are starting to change. Those who are well-educated or wealthier tend to learn more about the environment in school.

The government is starting initiatives that involve youth. For example, the First National Youth and Environment Congress of 2013 was organized by two government ministries. The goal of the Congress is to teach youth about natural resources and how they can be protected. The Congress will try to get youth all over the nation involved in protecting their environment.

An organization from Peru called EcoRed is also working with a local group called Ciudad Saludable (Healthy City) to create a general law on waste management. The two organizations are starting a national conversation on recycling. They are also working with different businesses and individuals to teach them about their responsibilities and get their help in creating better laws.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but the youth of the nation are starting to unite to change the course of their nation’s future!


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