Kelly, our volunteer, with the students from the orphanage

Environmental Education with Students from Casa Segura

According to national geographic, by the year 2015 humans had created 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste. Of that number 9 % was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% either ended up in landfills or the natural environment such as oceans and rivers.

Here in Riberalta, Bolivia, home to the point where the Madre de Dios River joins the Beni River, the people of this community utilize incineration as their strategy for handling waste.

However, as I walk through this beautiful pueblo I notice vast amounts of plastic, aluminum, and glass in the streets. There are some trash bins on the avenues but, they are small, spaced far apart, and not utilized. When single use plastic ends up in streets it’s very likely to end up in water near by, threatening the well being of the life that inhabits the water was well as the well being of the earth.

During one of my visits at Casa Segura, an orphanage here in Riberalta, I brought materials I often saw left outside of public trash bins, plastic bottles, a plastic bag, aluminum can, hairspray can, a cotton t-shirt, cigarette butts, and rope. I gave the children options of how many years it would take for those items to decompose when just left in the streets.

Together we discovered it takes plastic bottles anywhere from 450 years- never to decompose, cigarette butts 1-15 years, which really surprised some of the students, and a plastic bag can take up to 10-1000 years. Educating younger generations about real and pressing issues should be a societal priority.

The organization I’m currently collaborating with, Sustainable Bolivia, has started city clean up days which thus far have had a positive reaction. However, the challenge of keeping these items out of the streets is one we are still working on.