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Eliminating Single-Use Plastics in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

2024-02-26
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On today’s program, we’ll visit a small town in Guatemala, Central America, that is a shining example of reducing single-use plastic waste.

San Pedro La Laguna is a village in southwestern Guatemala on the shores of magnificent Lake Atitlán. Approximately 90% of the village’s residents are of Mayan descent. Lake Atitlán is a picturesque body of water whose quiet, peaceful beauty makes it a popular tourist destination, with thousands of people from around the globe visiting each year. However, over the past few decades, the lake’s once pristine and fragile ecosystem has been plagued with an ever-growing amount of plastic pollution.

The Honorable Mauricio Méndez, who wanted to quickly halt further plastic pollution in Lake Atitlán said, “When I took office, the municipal landfill was saturated with plastics, and most of the waste ended up in the lake… We needed to act fast.” He added, “The lake is our life. We have the responsibility to leave this legacy for our children… I want my community to continue living close to the lake, bathing in it, and serving tourists in a sustainable and efficient way.” “And that’s why we dared to create this agreement, the 111-(2016) where we eliminated from this municipality the use of polystyrene, straws, and (single-use) bags. This has been the greatest satisfaction we have had as a corporation, as a municipality, as a team.”

First, the municipal leaders went from house to house throughout the village to talk to and educate the villagers about the need for the ban. Second, to eliminate the plastic and styrofoam items already in existence, the leaders collected them from the villagers and replaced them free of charge with reusable or biodegradable ones. To eliminate single-use plastic bags, the municipality purchased 2,000 beautiful handmade rubber basket bags made by the artisans in nearby Totonicapán and distributed them free of charge to the villagers. And finally, to ensure that everyone adhered to the ban, the municipality imposed a steep fine on individuals or companies that violated the new law. Their bold program was highly successful, and within a year, the town had reduced its plastic use by 80%.

Since then, the community has returned largely to its roots for packaging and carrying goods. They use banana leaves as plates or bowls for everything, such as french fries. Cloth napkins are used to carry tortillas. Vendors package other goods in paper, while shoppers bring home market purchases in colorful rubber bags. In addition, many San Pedro La Laguna villagers now voluntarily collect and properly dispose of plastic waste in the area.

San Pedro La Laguna's success has inspired several other Guatemala municipalities to follow suit and impose bans on single-use plastics.
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