In the poorest of the municipalities on the outskirts of Santiago, trucks have been collecting organic waste from residents for many years: the city of La Pintana is an example of recycling in Chile, the largest waste-producing country in the region. but recycles only a tiny part of it and more.
Municipal nursery built on a former landfill
The skins of potatoes, avocados, oranges, or other fruits and vegetables thrown into trash cans, boxes, or even plastic bags and then hung from doors or trees have been collected daily for 17 years. Organic waste makes up half of the total waste generated by every family in this city of almost 190,000 people, of whom just over 15% live in poverty, the highest rate in Chile’s capital and its suburbs.
La Pintana, one of the first municipalities in Santiago to organize such a collection, also has a municipal nursery built on an old landfill. The latter annually provides 100,000 plants of 400 different species, which are then used to green the city.
“It means a lot to me that the city has come up with this environmental initiative and motivated residents to look into it,” Escarlette Isler, a city official, said from a step attached to the back of a loaded picker truck. “People have changed, now they care about recycling and no longer put vegetables in the “general trash,” assures Jose Vera, the owner of a small vegetable shop, walking outside with two wide boxes filled with organic waste.
In this way, the municipal program has succeeded in creating a recycling culture in the country, which produces an average of 1.13 kg of waste per person per day and recycles only 0.8% of it, according to the Ministry of the Environment.
Once collection is complete, the dump trucks return to the headquarters of the General Directorate of Environmental Protection (DIGA) to unload their cargo. After the total sorting, carried out in a garbage container, the waste is poured into wheelbarrows, and then taken to the composting site using earthworms. “This work brings us wealth, it brings us joy. The city is getting better with gardens,” enthusiastically says Jeanette Gonzalez, a municipal worker who decorates the alley near the municipal sports building.
“It’s a virtuous circle”
Chile is the country in Latin America that generates the most waste, according to the World Bank, while in terms of recycling it is well below the Latin American average of 4%, according to the Economic Environment Commission. Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Through this project, the municipality of La Pintana recycles about 20 tons of organic waste per day and saves about $100,000 per year, which it then reinvests in the community. “When we took over this management, it was a municipality where there was a dump every 200 meters. Today, we don’t see that anymore,” its mayor, Claudia Pizarro, whose city has received several international awards for the program, tells AFP. “It’s a virtuous circle: people see that where there was a landfill, there is greenery and everything is blooming, and they stop dumping garbage there,” she adds.
However, organic waste isn’t the only one getting a second chance at La Pintana: more than half of the municipal nursery’s fifteen employees are inmates who traded prison for community service. “Everything that is produced here also benefits them, because they are the children of the city. It gives them a sense of belonging,” emphasizes Cynthia Ortiz, who has been managing the structure for almost seven years.
Chile’s environment minister, Maisa Rojas, recently announced a bill designed to replicate Pintana’s example in the rest of the country.