Trash on many of Ecuador’s beaches can be an unsightly issue, one which thankfully is being resolved to a large degree through a national-scale plastics recycling program that was implemented just one year ago. In fact, Ecuador was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for collecting 1.5 million plastic bottles in less than fifteen days! Here is an article from April 24, 2013 about the successes of the newly created recycling program (Google should provide the option at the top of the page to translate the article to English).
Recycling here is not as organized as what people might be used to in their home country with specific bins that are collected separately from household trash. Here, the trash collectors rip open every bag of trash and separate the plastics while in transit between houses. Once we discovered this, we began to put our plastics in a separate bag to save them the trouble and mess. Here along this stretch of the coast, trash is collected by the municipality 2-3 times per week (depending on the location). Entrepreneurial types now also drive by in trucks and pay people by the kilo for their plastics.
The same goes for aluminum and steel. Multiple times per week you might hear a fellow in a truck, driving up and down the road, honking and yelling “chatarra, chatarra” which basically translates to “metal junk [plus old batteries].” They’ll buy steel cans, empty paint containers, old appliances, you name it. The price isn’t too bad either (we received a dollar for a couple of old paint cans and an old fan the other day) so it motivates people to collect what they can find laying around to sell it as a supplemental source of income. Instead of being recycled per se, these scrap items are typically reworked into new products, a more direct and efficient use of the metals.
Up until the last 10 years or less, plastic bottles were a rarity in Ecuador (and Latin America). Instead people purchased their sodas out of returnable glass bottles, just like back in the US up until the 1960s or 1970s. It’s interesting to note how the culture of plastic is more or less just arriving to Ecuador while in other countries, like the US, there is a subtle, but noticeable shift away from plastics and back towards glass due to human safety and environmental concerns.
Beer in Ecuador is still predominantly sold off the back of trucks by the “jaba” (pronounced “hah-bah”). Jabas are the sturdy plastic containers that hold twelve 22 oz glass beer bottles.
Once you’ve emptied your jaba you take it back to the store where the owner will take your empties and replace your jaba with full bottles, usually priced at roughly a dollar per beer. Or if you catch the beer truck a full jaba will usually cost you about $8-$9. Note: Hang tight to your jaba because these cases alone will cost you $7 (or more) to replace. The national beer of Ecuador is Pilsener, although Brahma and Budwieser are becoming more common.
Sadly, more and more people are looking to the US-culture of drinking beer from a 12-oz glass container and these smaller-sized bottles are beginning to become popular among more elite Ecuadorians. Unfortunately, these smaller bottles are neither returnable nor recyclable (as of yet) and often the emptied bottles are abandoned haphazardly on the side of the street or on the beach by the unconcerned party-goers. Grrr..I hate that!
Ecuador’s new recycling program for plastics might one day create the catalyst for an eventual glass recycling program. Like I mentioned in the previous blog post, it truly is fun to watch all the shifts that Ecuador has been making in a relatively short period of time.
I will end this post with an photo ode to the “22 ounce Pilsener and ceviche on the beach” experience. Come down and try it for yourself!