by Erick Uribe
Saco Limpio, Saco Lindo is the SPA grant-funded community project that I’ve devoted myself to over the past nine months. My primary counterparts throughout this process have been the staff of Fundación Saco Recicla, a non-profit organization that handles the entire pueblo’s waste management system. To properly understand the goals of this project, it’s necessary to learn a bit more about Fundación Saco Recicla’s history.
Prior to it’s founding in 2012, San Jose de Saco did not have any form of ecologically responsible waste disposal. Every piece of garbage generated was either burned or tossed into the local environment. Since it’s inception, Saco Recicla has transformed the pueblo through daily trash pick-ups, ensuring that every class of waste is properly processed. Organic matter is converted into nutrient rich compost, recyclable goods are sorted and sold in bulk, and everything else is packaged and shipped off to a proper landfill. Staff members’ salaries, maintenance costs, and other expenses are paid by the modest service fees that Saco Recicla collects from households and businesses that opt into the program, as well as through the sale of compost and recyclables.
Despite its resounding success, Saco Recicla faced two significant challenges, both of which Saco Limpio, Saco Lindo was designed to address. The organization’s lone motocarro has faced significant degradation due to its constant use over the past three years. Without access to an alternate vehicle that can be used to conduct daily trash pick-ups, the motocarro has not received the thorough mechanical maintenance that is suggested by the manufacturer. As a result, it has been on the verge of complete failure for several months, and even minor problems have made trash collection impossible.
The second challenge was a lack of community support for the organization’s activities. Because so many households have been accustomed to improper (free) waste disposal, about 25% were not opting into the program and continued to either burn or litter their waste. Not only does this undermine the efforts of Fundación Saco Recicla to keep the pueblo clean and healthy, but it also threatens the financial stability and overall longevity of the program. Its success is dependent on the service fees collected from each household.
With this in mind, our project set out to to improve overall community support through a comprehensive environmental awareness campaign. The campaign kicked off with a series of five environmentally focused movie nights and charlas. Collectively, these movie screenings drew hundreds of Saqueros and were pivotal in recruiting for the community clean up and reforestation activities that followed. Over the course of three months we have also hosted four service days, one of which saw the attendance of approximately 75 community members and several Peace Corps Volunteers. We planted 250 trees throughout the pueblo.
Another component of the environmental awareness campaign was focused on positive reinforcement for the households that pay into the waste collection program. We enlisted the artistic abilities of Sara Shaw, a CII-5 PCV, who designed a beautiful “Yo Apoyo Saco Recicla” sticker. Over the course of three days, we posted these stickers on the front doors and windows of approximately 300 households. The goal was to put a bit of community pressure on those households that don’t pay into the program. It would soon be widely known which houses were and weren’t contributing.
Lastly, we set out to acquire a second motocarro. This expense made up the bulk of our grant funds’ budget, and is incredibly significant for the long-term sustainability of the organization.
Although we’ve already accomplished much of what we set out to do, we are still several weeks away from completing the project. My community counterparts and I are in the process of planning another community-wide service day, where we’ll invite as many people as possible (including you!) to help clean up littered areas or plant another 125 trees. Lastly, I’m also excited to announce the second motocarro has been purchased and should be arriving in San Jose de Saco within a couple of weeks.
This project has definitely been one of the most rewarding achievements of my service, and even though it has required incredible patience and persistence, I’m confident that I’ll look back on its planning and execution with pride.