One question that we often hear from guests and volunteers is: “Do you recycle?”

“Of course we do,” I reply. They then ask where the recycle bins are, and I say, “Don’t worry about that – just throw your cans and plastic bottles in the trash can. The rest will be taken care of.”

You can imagine their surprise when I tell them about how garbage is recycled here in Honduras and how it has nothing to do with saving the earth or going green. In fact, it is all about small business and pure old fashioned capitalism.

Here’s How It Works

You put your trash in the trashcan and the trash guys haul it to the dump just like anywhere else, but once the trash arrives at a Honduran dump, things change quickly.

Suddenly, men, women, and children come from out of nowhere and attack the fresh mounds of new garbage. Trash flies into the air, with plastic bottles sailing one direction and aluminum cans tossed in the other as plastic and metals of all values are totally picked over by the people who live around the dump. Cardboard that can be recycled is bailed by grandmothers, and small children play on the sidelines while packs of vultures take on the organics. The families work together to gather up their piles of sorted garbage.

Soon the buyers come in their trucks paying the sorters for their spoils. From there, the scrap metal is hauled off as-is, but the cans and bottles go a different route. They are taken to the nearby Pan American Highway, and spread out on the road by children who then stand by waiting for the traffic to crush the bottles and aluminum cans as flat as pancakes, using the energy and weight of the passing vehicles.

In the end everybody is smiling and getting some money in their pockets. The message here is that the human spirit always seeks to attain even when there is no government to lend a helping hand. For us who “have,” it seems sad. For those who do not, the garbage of others is a steady source of money and opportunity.