Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Recycling is something that should come naturally when living on an island. Outside of throwing your waste in the sea, which is definitely a no-no, there is limited land space and garbage is always a big problem. For years the beaches and seas around Guanaja were littered with waste in the form of plastic. The canals of Bonnaca were clogged with waste and people thought nothing about throwing their garbage into the sea.

However, in more recent times the people have come to see that this practice could not continue, especially with the influx of people on the island. Garbage containers starting appearing around the streets of Bonnaca, the citizens were being taught to be conscientious about littering and the beaches were starting to be cleaned on a semi-regular basis.

For the most part I separate my garbage depending upon how one can dispose of it.

Food scraps: composite pile
Paper products: burn pile
Bottles: break them up and dump in the sea for ultimate "sea glass"
Cans: designate for the dump

The rest of the items that fall into the "what do we do with them?" category are old batteries, used motor oil, old electrical items (computers, DVD players, radios, etc.), and on and on and on. I, much to the amusement of my daughter, wash out my Zip Loc bags and reuse them not only because of the garbage they create but because they are difficult to come by and expensive. The items that cannot be disposed of by burning at home or recycling are brought to the dump where fuel oil is poured over the whole mess and burned. Not the most efficient or safe way to handle the problem but with limited resources and no garbage disposal plant available, it is the only solution to an ugly problem. Granted, some items are being recycled; scrap metal to sell on the mainland, batteries, used motor oil.

One of the biggest problems on a daily basis, however, is PLASTIC. There is a Honduran law on the books that plastic bags and plastic bottles cannot be used, sold or shipped to the Bay Islands. Soda bottles are the biggest offenders followed by those terrible plastic bags everyone must have to stuff their purchases into. Of course, as with all laws in Honduras, how does one enforce this one? Is the government going to stand on the docks of La Ceiba when the boats load up and confiscate all the soda bottles being loaded on board? Are they going to search all the boxes to see which ones contain the offense shopping bags? No. So, they leave it up to the citizens to be honest and obey the law!

As an end result, more and more plastic bottles are coming onto the island. While efforts have been made by local grocers to cut down on the number of plastic bags dispensed by encouraging its shoppers to bring their own shopping bags, it has had little effect. The Municipal tried to ban plastic bags from the stores by instituting a fine, but, again, who is going to police or enforce it?

The local stores, for a while, even offered canvas bags for sale to used by their customers. These were a little too pricey and overall the effort was a flop. It would be great if the grocers could get access to these disposable bags (made out of recycled material) to sell as they would be cheaper to offer to their customers, but, alas, there seems to be no such service in Honduras for these type of bags. It is amazing that many years ago, everyone on the island carried their own shopping bag and not one plastic bag was seen. Of course with the advent of the availability of these bags, people thought it was easier not to remember to take their bag to the store and rely upon the seller to provide them as a service.

I and several shoppers on the island have a variety of bags used for shopping. I keep mine by my door so that I won't forget them when I leave home on shopping day. Some bags were "disposable" bags that I acquired while in the states at the local grocery; the red basket was one I purchased last year in Germany.

Another way to combat the garbage that is produced by plastic bottles is recycling. For quite some time people would collect the used "soda" bottles in large plastic bags and the boats that went to the Coast for groceries would take them on board to deliver to La Ceiba for recycling. This was difficult however as a bag full of soda plastic bottles is shapeless and difficult to stack efficiently.

As seen by the photos, my one worker alone had amassed several large bags over a few weeks time just by scouring the beach from our house to his. If this amount could be gathered up by one worker in one small area, you have an idea of what the problem is over the whole island and over time.

So, the foreigners living on the island, lead by Buddy, who found a source that was willing to pay for 1/2 the cost of a recycling machine if we would come up with the rest of the money, managed to spearhead the purchase. Buddy talked to us as individuals, got donations and then approached the Municipal with his plan, which was to turn the machine over to them if they would supply a place to install it and a worker to run it. This was agreed to and the order was placed.

We waited several months for the crusher to get here and in the meantime a site had been located by the Municipal. When the machine arrived it was then a real challenge to get it from the boat, onto the dock and to its final resting place. Also, a hole had to be cut in the roof of the site to accompany parts of the machine. At first, this was a huge success for now the bottles could be crushed and compacted into tidy, squares of plastic which were much easier to load on to and ship by boat.

For a while this venture proved successful; the islanders cleaned up the beaches, streets, walkways and living areas, made some extra cash, the Municipal made money and Guanaja on the land and the water surrounding the island was much cleaner. However, all good things must come to an end and one day we noted that the plastic crusher facility was locked up tight. We tried to find out what had happened and met with several answers:

1. The price offered for recycled plastic had been dropped so low that no money could be made to ship it.

2. The boat owners refused to take the plastic to the mainland (we found this not to be true).

3. The Municipal ran out of money to pay people for the bottles they brought in as the tax applied was not being collected due to people ordering their "sodas" directly from the dealers and by-passing the Deposito where most items were inventoried and a tax applied.

We have heard that once in a while the crusher is up and runnin,g but not on a regular basis. So far the beaches have remained fairly clean as people are not littering anymore. However, unless something is done, I'm afraid we will fall back into the plastic cesspool that once surrounded Guanaja.


  1. What do you put in plastic bags? I have found that over time, I am using more reusable containers instead of plastic bags, because they are not recyclable here, and I am really trying to reduce our waste.

  2. Plastic bags are used at the vegetable markets to put the purchases in. All the stores, be it grocery, hardware or clothing, also use plastic bags - same as in the States. The U.S. at least has recycling and garbage disposal....islands have very basic ways of getting rid of their waste, i.e., burning or just accumulating piles of trash which a lot of times fall into the sea. At one time, here on the island, we would see the garbage boat going to the dump and rather than navigate their way into the canal, they would dump the mess in the sea! A stop was put to that and I don't see them doing it anymore.

    Garbage is a big problem on the Mainland too where it lays about in huge dumps piling up into mountains of trash.

    I save any reuseable containers I can but one big problem are tin cans which, yes, break down and rust but during that time they take up a lot of space.