December 12, 2018

Preventing Zika while Transforming Trash into Eco-Friendly Treasure

Red Cross volunteers supporting the ZICORE project in Chiquimula, Guatemala fill PET bottles with other trash collected in the community. Credit: Guatemalan Red Cross

Chiquimula, Guatemala is an area that suffers from both a high incidence of mosquito-borne diseases and a high percentage of people living in extreme poverty. Both factors led Chiquimula department to be selected as one of the focus areas for the elimination of Aedes aegypti mosquito breeding sites in homes and in public spaces through the USAID-funded Zika Community Response Project, or ZICORE. Medical Care Development International (MCDI) leads the ZICORE Project with the Guatemalan Red Cross as an implementing partner.

The ZICORE project encourages people in high-risk areas like Camotán and Jocotán, Chiquimula to eliminate non-usable containers from their yards and streets. The careful removal of diverse types of discarded containers prevents their becoming unintentional mosquito breeding sites that can contribute to the spread of dangerous diseases like Zika, dengue and chikungunya. One challenge, however, has been that municipal trash pick-up and recycling services can be spotty, running the risk of collecting large volumes of non-usable containers only to have them end up at illicit dumping sites where they can still contribute to harmful mosquito breeding close to the human population.

The appropriate handling of solid waste is a priority for ZICORE, so project staff decided to take matters into their own hands. The Red Cross linked up with the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Catholic Church to find alternative uses for the discarded plastic containers. Community artisans began to collect plastic containers, especially PET bottles, from the ZICORE project and fill them up with other trash, like food wrappers, to make them heavy enough to be used as building materials and to make eco-friendly furniture. In all, 2.5 tons of solid waste have been collected for this purpose.

After collection, PET bottles and other trash are transformed into eco-friendly stools and tables. Once the products are ready, the Guatemalan Red Cross helps community members to sell them at "environmental markets" convened by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Glass bottles collected are sold to a recycling company to generate income to support a home-building project for the poor. Revenues generated are managed by the Catholic Church, which invests them in pro-poor initiatives as well as to ensure that the eco-friendly efforts are sustained.

The production of these artisanal goods is made possible with inputs from a variety of entities, such as the Guatemalan Ministry of Health, the national civil police, the municipal government of Chiquimula, the Community Development Council (COCODE), and the Ministry of Education. The sale of eco-stools as useful home goods generates value where none existed before, creating an incentive to continue collecting diverse types of small and medium-sized plastic containers.

The same plastic bottles used to create these eco-stools are also made into a type of construction material used to build the walls of houses for the poor, known as "eco-bricks." As of December 2018, an estimated total of 1,200 eco-bricks have been produced with trash from the ZICORE Project.

The removal of discarded containers that can accumulate standing water is an action that, together with other techniques like flipping over, scrubbing, and covering useful water containers, serves as an effective way of promoting good health and reducing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. Moreover, it is a sustainable way to source materials for producing eco-friendly construction and furnishings that generate income for those in need.

This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of MCDI and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

A Red Cross volunteer supporting the ZICORE project shows off an eco-stool made out of discarded PET bottles. Credit: Guatemalan Red Cross

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