Cuba and Learning to Recycle

November 7, 2014 |

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Photo feature by Elio Delgado Valdes

Text by Elvira Pardo Cruz

HAVANA TIMES — Despite the existence of a law – passed in 1975 – which establishes that all entities whose productive processes or services generate waste that isn’t re-used in any way must recycle that waste, there is indisputably no habit of recycling among Cubans.

Though Article 235 of Cuba’s recycling policy, approved by the Council of Ministers on December 22, 2011 as part of the implementation of the Guidelines drawn up during the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, is aimed at “encouraging increased recycling and added value of recovered products, prioritizing activities of greater economic impact and fewer resources and their re-capitalization, as permitted by the economy,” the problem of recycling has not yet been properly addressed.

Though little is done in this connection, at least recycling legislation exists for State companies. The question, then, would be: how can we educate people to properly recycle raw materials?

0019Raising the awareness of the public – and the managers of State or private businesses – about the economic and environmental importance of recycling recoverable waste products could keep such waste products from reaching garbage bins and ending up in dumps, something which is harmful to the country’s economy and contributes to the accumulation of waste in the city.

Though it may seem strange, the first link of the recycling chain are garbage bins (though the recovery of raw materials should actually begin at home, with the separation of different waste products).

The direct consequence of not separating garbage products are people who pick anything of any value out of garbage bins. These dumpster-divers apparently make ends meet this way, to the detriment of the city’s cleanliness and their own health.

In some cases, these individuals are mentally challenged or alcoholics. In others, they are elderly people whose pensions aren’t enough to cover their basic needs. Sheer need makes people of both genders and of all ages rummage through the garbage in search of glass or plastic bottles, cans, pieces of cardboard and paper and other items that can be sold.

These materials are also collected at dumpsites, where books that can be useful to students sometimes sadly end up.

Another weakness of Cuba’s recycling industry is that the Recycling Companies Union does not have the infrastructure needed to transport, treat and process these waste products.

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That said, the country has made efforts to develop a recycling and environmental care policy, such as the Recuperadores del Futuro primary school movement and the campaigns organized through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, whose contribution has not been insignificant.

Recently, the Gestion sostenible de residuos para una vida mejor (“Sustainable Waste Management for Better Living Project”), launched by the Italian company Bacino Salrmo in collaboration with Havana’s Office of the Historian and co-financed by the European Union, encouraged the recycling of paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum and non-ferrous metals in the city’s old town.

Cuban society should seriously ask itself what recycling is and why it is important, for we are part of the global village.

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What's your opinion?

  • The Amazing Hugh Lambert and F

    Those poor souls digging through garbage. I thought socialism was supposed to lift these folks up. Looks like it failed.

  • GC of canada

    In Canada , children learn about recycing in junior kindergarten at age 4 and at home prior to that. It is natural for everyone here to recycle.
    Cuba, yes you can do it.

    Gladys of Canada

  • John Saynor

    Another Canadian here. I am shocked even after coming to Cuba for over 25 years at the amount of garbage left especially on the beaches…you have one of the most beautiful countries in the world and treat it like a huge garbage pail. Then when I see bottles and cans floating on the ocean, eventually going to the ocean floor, it sickens me. I will continue to do my bit to put my garbage where it belongs when I am there.

  • Moses Patterson

    I walk a lot when I visit Havana as do most Cubans. It is sadly quite common to see Cubans drinking beverages from aluminum cans and then just tossing them to the ground and never breaking stride. Most of the garbage bins in Havana are overflowing so anything less than an earnest attempt to discard these cans in the trash bins will likely mean these cans end up around and not in the refuse container. Habaneros simply don’t seem to care that Havana is being overrun by it’s own garbage.

  • Virginia Olsen

    Nova Scotia, Canada has alot of experience we could share with Cuba in how to motivate behaviour change which benefits the environment and the economy.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Not all re-cycling has failed. The government shops encourage it by failing to stock toilet paper for prolonged periods and by so doing ensure re-cycling GRANMA, the official daily organ of the Communist Party of Cuba.
    Well done! There is nothing that equates with leading by example!