Applying the Three R’s in Candelaria, Honduras

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This might not be the mantra you’d expect to hear from a community of 2,000 people living in western Honduras. But Candelaria is not what you might expect.

 

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At the beginning of the partnership in 2011, bottles and waste piled up at the location of the future recycling center.

Candelaria’s environmental story starts in the mid-‘90s when, for the first time, plastics and other disposable materials found their way to the local markets. As with similar communities throughout Central America, the streets where Candelaria’s children play quickly became strewn with garbage. But this is where Candelaria’s story takes a unique turn.

While most communities ignored this mounting environmental problem, the progressive Candelarians aspired to become environmental stewards of their pristine land. Thanks to their partnership with the Engineers Without Borders USA Chicagoland Professional Chapter (EWB-USA Chicagoland), Candelaria is now an environmental success story whose impact reaches beyond their borders.

From the beginning of their waste challenge, Candelaria proactively tried to find ways to control this growing environmental crisis. The residents designated an area for waste and started an open-air dump to clean up their streets. Unfortunately, the open air dump ended up compounding their problems. Rodents and insects overtook the dump, and when the rains came the uncontrolled stormwater runoff found its way from the dump into the community’s waterways.

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The newly built recycling center in Candelaria serves as an example for other communities to emulate.

The community clearly had a passion for managing their waste in an environmentally responsive manner, but soon realized that they did not have the technical expertise to make it a reality. Thus, the partnership with EWB-USA Chicagoland was born. “The thing that amazes me time after time is their thirst for knowledge. They see a problem happening and they want to find a solution,” said Liz Jensen, a member of EWB-USA Chicagoland who returned in May 2014 from a trip to Candelaria.

The EWB-USA Chicagoland team is implementing a waste management program that builds on the community’s existing infrastructure and honors their desire to control their waste in an environmentally sound way. Since partnering with the community, EWB-USA Chicagoland has relocated waste away from a natural water spring and capped it with clay so that the majority of rainfall runs over it. Pipes were also installed to capture dangerous pollutants and carry them to drying beds where they can evaporate. Candelaria’s recycling center building has been upgraded and a composting system has been implemented.

Candelaria is proud of these accomplishments, and promotes their waste management program and recycling center as a model for other communities throughout Honduras and Central America. They know their neighbors face similar environmental challenges, and want to share the solutions they implemented in partnership with EWB-USA. Leaders from several nearby towns have visited and toured the program site. In turn, the neighboring community of Gualcinse, Honduras, has already started a recycling center and landfill — all modeled off of Candelaria’s successes.

Together with our volunteers and supporters EWB-USA changes the world one community at a time. An enterprising community like Candelaria shows just how significant the ripple effect of our impact can be!

Written by: EWB-USA