Every June 5th since 1974, the global community has observed World Environment Day to bring worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment. This year the theme for WED is “Beat Plastic Pollution.” Plastic has many valuable uses; however, we have become reliant on single use and disposable plastics, with severe environmental consequences.

With the goal of improving plastic waste management, both among policy makers and consumers, SGP supported a project in Puerto Lempira, Honduras. The city, home to more than 50,000 people, sits on the shores of the Karataska lagoon. The lagoon is part of a complex system of protected areas, covering about 15% of the country, and is considered one of the most biologically important areas in Mesoamerica. It largely forms the foundation of the city’s economic activity.

This important ecosystem faces serious problems of pollution and resource overexploitation due to fishing, mangrove destruction, and rapid and unplanned urban development. It also serves as the city’s garbage dump. Approximately 40 cubic meters of garbage is produced daily in Puerto Lempira, in addition to what is produced in nearby villages, all of which is deposited directly into the waters of the lagoon. 

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In response to the environmental degradation of their lagoon, the local women's organization Miskitu Indian Mairinka Asla Takanka (MIMAT) developed two projects to collect and recycle garbage with the purpose of improving waste management and to reduce ecosystem contamination. Additionally, they saw an opportunity to generate income for the women in their organization.

"It was clear that something could be done with the waste that could provide an income. We were also aware that if we did not take care of the lagoon, we would lose our main source of food." - Ada Osorio, MIMAT Technical Team

In 2011, The GEF Small Grants Programme Honduras provided NGO MIMAT with financial and technical support on project and financial management, adaptation to climate change, and waste management. As a result, MIMAT was able to develop two small enterprises; one on garbage collection and another on recycling.

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The garbage business collects household waste twice a week along a collection route. Its clients include schools, the hospital, churches, restaurants, and other businesses. When collecting hospital waste, the women follow a specific protocol for biomedical waste and take it to a dump site granted to MIMAT by the Puerto Lempira Municipality. In total 40 members of the women’s organization participate in the businesses, which has improved their income and allowed them to provide for their families.

At the outset of the project, the people and businesses of Puerto Lempira were not aware of the women’s waste collection business. As a solution, the women offered their services directly to households and establishments by knocking on doors. Now they are well known in the community and people can subscribe to get their waste picked up regularly. Once a month the subscribers are charged a fee, and when they sign up for the first time, they are provided a container in which to dispose their waste.

For the recycling enterprise, the women are responsible for collecting plastic, aluminum, and other recyclable waste, which they sort, clean, and compact into bales. Every two months, the group sends between 4000-7000 pounds of recycled material, including plastic and metal waste, to La Ceiba for processing. As a result of the waste collection and recycling, Puerto Lempira is a cleaner city and pollution of the Karataska lagoon is reduced.

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Plastic pollution is a defining environmental challenge for our time, and global plastic production is expected to double within the next 15 years. In December, the third United Nations Environment Assembly adopted resolution 3/7, which stresses the importance of long-term elimination of litter, avoiding detriment to marine ecosystems, and urges all actors to step up preventative actions by 2025. Small piloting enterprises like the one conceived by the women of MIMAT is necessary to motivate and inspire a systematic rethinking of waste management globally.

Happy World Environment Day!

 

This story was originally published by UNDP Honduras in 2017. Photos: UNDP Honduras/Cristina Sevillano-del Aguila