Staff Post, Ometepe Island, Lake Nicaragua, Nicaragua.
by Russell Maier, December 15th 2014
As I made my way towards Hacienda Merida, Alvaro’s hotel on this lush double volcano island, I would stop at the little stores along the road, take a break with farmers, or chit chat with passerbys. After some pleasantries, I would inquire about what happens to their consumed plastics and bottles.
As in the northern Philippines, there really isn’t much to do with the waste other than burn it or burry it. Most people were doing just this. Or dumping it in Lake Nicaragua– though no one admitted to that– that is one of the inevitable destinations.
However, as I neared the town of Merida, the answers started to change. Stores were segregating their waste, children explained how they took their plastics to school, and adults were… ecobriking!
Alvaro has set up an amazing system through his hotel to transform the flow of plastic that Ometepe’s tourists create. Pollution here is an ironic consequence of well intentioned ecotourists. Their visits demand a large supply of water bottles, chips wrappers, soap bottles, product packaging, restaurant utensils, lightbulbs, batteries, etc. These items simply have no where to go but the very into the very nature the tourists are here to enjoy.
Alvaro however, has managed to aikido this dynamic straight into the water bottles. Staff must present two ecobricks before they receive their monthly salary. Guides must present four ecobricks before they can be hired by the hotel’s guests on a well paid hike. Locals who want to use the WiFi must bring an ecobrick to get the password. As the staff and guides can’t always make their own ecobricks, this has resulted in a micro-economy of community ecobrick production. Those in the community with free time, have started making Ecobricks on the side. The guides and staff buy the ecobricks for side income– the price was 10 cordovas, but has recently moved up to 15 cordovas as demand for ecobricks has increased (about 0.4-0.6$ US).
The result of several years of this evolving dynamic is that the town of Merida is the cleanest I’ve seen in Nicaragua so far. And, best of all, Alavarro has been able to build a small Ecobricks school and dozens of ecobrick tables for other schools on the island! The school provides a quality, innovative, bilingual education to the Merida children. The school is often assisted by the guests who are staying at Hacienda Merida.
Its super cool to see how without any connection Alvaro and us back in the Philippines have been able to develop such a parallel community and bottle powered solution. I’ll shortly be sharing the insights, discussions and innovations that are coming from our connection!