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Iquique Chile

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City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Denisse, President of Cooperativa de trabajo de recicladores de Alto Hosticio (Cooperative of the waste pickers' work in Alto Hosticio). Iquique y Alto Hosticio, Chile

A Personal Story

Denisse has been collecting and segregating waste and selling recyclable materials for 27 years. Three years ago she co-founded the cooperative of which she is now the president.

Formal Waste Management System

The municipality has outsourced waste management to a private company, which collects the waste from households and disposes it in the landfill. Denisse specifies that, “the private company does not provide any environmental benefits as they don't segregate and recycle, they only dispose.”

Informal Recycling System and Waste Picker Organization

Segregation and recycling is carried out by waste pickers like Denisse. About 200 of them have obtained official recognition from the authorities and a permit to access waste and segregate and sell recyclable materials. The interesting thing about this cooperative is that, apart from being engaged in recycling, they are making an effort to come out with innovative ideas to obtain value added objects out of waste, instead of just selling it as raw materials.

Future plans

This is an important achievement, but still not enough. For the near future, the cooperative has a number of very ambitious projects. First, they intend to engage in door-to-door collection of municipal and industrial waste. For instance, they are soon going to start a program to collect used oil from different establishments (like restaurants and hotels) to produce bio-diesel, which they could use as a clean source of fuel for the three trucks they are using. Second, they would like to collect and segregate the used clothes that for the moment are being incinerated so as to provide livelihood to people and avoid the environmental impacts. As she explains, “we want to help the community to learn not only how to segregate waste, but also to understand that our families make a living out of waste management.” Third, they plan to expand a composting plan, which is now being run by a small private company.

Adding value: Hydroponic agriculture in PET bottles

Recently, they launched a new idea for PET bottles. They cut the bottle into two parts and grow vegetables. Three members of the cooperative joined a hydroponic agriculture training. At the moment they are growing 25,000 salad plants in the cooperative garden. In this way, the plastic bottles get a second life and vegetables are grown without pesticides. Supermarkets are interested in buying the lettuce, but the cooperatives have preferred to engage in education programs. Therefore, they offer one-hour training on how to grow vegetables in PET bottles (especially to children) and at the end of it give everyone a plant. For each plant they sell they get 1 US dollar, while the raw material is only 0.20 US dollar per Kg. Of course, it requires labour but this is the resource that waste pickers can offer in the market. Apart from the monetary benefits that they obtain, these educational programs give waste pickers the opportunity to offer their knowledge to society and in particular raise awareness about the importance of waste and their work.

Current Central Issues

Dennise closes by explaining, “More and more in Chile we are buying low quality products from China, which have a short lifespan. Instead, we want to create a different production system where durable products are handcrafted locally by re-using and recycling waste materials.”