Monday, February 04, 2008


Mason and I have been working for almost a year now with representatives from the Malpaisillo mayor’s office and members of the community to address the growing trash problem the town faces. As anyone who has visited us here knows, we unfortunately live in a town where litter is commonplace, leaving all the plastic bags, bottles and papers to blow around uncollected in the streets. If it weren’t for all the trash, we would really live in a beautiful town. There are views everywhere of nearby volcanoes, and our town is filled with big, green fruit trees and colorful houses.

Of course, trash isn’t only a Malpaisillo problem; it’s bad throughout the country and the region. Malpaisillo collects the trash from homes and businesses (the few who are willing to pay) around town twice weekly, charging each household 10 cordobas a month (equivalent to $0.50). (Those families who don’t participate either dump it illegally on the edges of town, or they burn it in their yards). They then take what they have collected out to the official “dump” which is roughly two kilometers outside of town. Here the trash is simply dumped in a field and forgotten about. From time to time someone will come around and burn scattered piles. Over time, what’s left is littered plastic of all varieties scattered throughout a square mile radius. Obviously this style of dumping causes unimaginable health and environmental problems. The wind and rain quickly carry away vast quantities of trash back into town or further into the countryside. There are disease issues such as dengue and rodent-spread illnesses to worry about, as well as the air pollution caused by the burning of plastic and other toxic materials. Also, the ground that all of this trash sits on is primarily highly porous lava rock, below which sits part of a huge aquifer that supplies the town’s drinking water. So, all of the residue left over from the burnt plastic that hasn’t entered the air is filtered down through the ground into the aquifer. Also, this whole dump area is in an area proposed as a national park, on account of the nearby volcanoes and the few small sections of untouched forest left in this area.

During Peace Corps pre-service training over on the other side of Nicaragua, Mason and I went and visited a small town that has a very impressive and inspiring way of dealing with trash. The town is El Rosario, and they started this trash treatment plant only two years ago. Just like Malpaisillo, they charge the community for trash collection, which occurs twice weekly. The trash is then taken three kilometers out of town to their dump. Once there, two men with masks and shovels sort it into organic and inorganic trash. The organic trash (which is roughly 80% of the total trash collected) is put into neat piles which eventually decompose into compost. The inorganic trash is divided into plastic bottles, aluminum, glass, and other. The plastic, aluminum and glass are all recycled. A recycling company from a nearby city comes and buys it from them. The small amount of trash that remains is later either burned or buried.

The organic trash takes three months to decompose completely into compost. Once the compost is ready, a part of it is put into sacks and sold to local farmers. The rest is used right there on site as a part of their plant nursery. With their compost, they have an extensive nursery of fruit trees, ornamental plants and medicinal plants. These plants and trees are later used to reforest or plant around the community, or they are sold to individuals.

Naturally, Mason and I were extremely impressed by how well the trash was managed in El Rosario. It doesn’t smell, there are no flies, and there are beautiful plants everywhere! Their trash treatment plant is environmentally friendly, it provides jobs, and it is a source of income and pride for the community.

Here in Malpaisillo we have been working closely with the mayor’s office to try to duplicate the project here. We naturally have had many frustrations, but it looks like things are really beginning to take shape. Back in August we took three community members to El Rosario to meet with their mayor’s office and to tour the plant. After that trip, we took two mayor’s office representatives to a three day Peace Corps project planning training. There we sketched out the details and made a solid long-term plan. Things were progressing well for a while, then in October the big rains hit, and then there was Christmas, then the town parties, etc… Now that all distractions are hopefully out of the way, we are back on track. We met with a representative of the Millennium Challenge Corporation this week to see if they would be interested in funding the project. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is a $175 million grant from the United States government to Nicaragua which started last year. They are working only in our northwest region of the country, and they are interested in funding environmental projects like ours. Needless to say, we are really excited about the possibilities. We know not to get our hopes up too much, because true to Nicaraguan style, the pace has been slow so far, and it’s bound to keep being slow! We’ll keep updating the blog with the latest project developments. Enjoy the pictures…

A nice view of nearby volcanoes from the Malpaisillo dump.

More burning.

Notice that practically the only trash you see is plastic? That's because it takes over 500 years to disintegrate.

Mason, Justino and Raul found three 1-gallon jugs of a highly toxic sterilizing solution.

This was our ride out to the dump!

The plant nursery at El Rosario's trash treatment plant.

Baby trees in El Rosario.

Creative ways El Rosario is using discarded buckets.

Aloe Vera.

Each household who participates in their trash collection services gets a nice sign by their door so the neighbors can see!

The plastic bottles waiting to be recycled in El Rosario.

The mounds of organic compost.

Justino from our town taking notes while the two trash-sorters answer questions.

The Malpaisillo group in El Rosario: Raul, Justino, Maria, Mason and Brenna.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Mason's Books

Well, Brenna put her books up here, so I thought I would too. Mine is much more technologically advanced, however. I have been using a site called to post my book reviews. There is a feature there that allows me to embed my book list in this blog. So, if you scroll down and look on the right, you will see that link. Enjoy!