Anyone that has ever traveled to a third world country, I´m sure is shocked at the amount of trash everywhere. Even in such a pristine place as this lake and these mountains, there is plenty of trash, in the lake and on the mountains.
It seems as though nobody cares. But that is not the case. The case is this, there are not very many ways to actually properly dispose of one´s trash here. Walking down the pathways and the streets, I think I have seen two public trash cans. In a town of about 13,000 that number is very low. Leading to people throwing their trash anywhere. Another factor in this lack of care for the environment stems from the economic situation here. Why should we worry about trash in the lake and streets when many people here worry about what they will eat that day?
Many people here burn their trash. Sounds horrendous, but it´s going to pollute the earth in one manner or another, so the difference between burning and throwing is cancelled out. Plus this place creates such a small amount of trash, relatively speaking, that the piles being burned are often very small and only burn for a few minutes before tapping out.
In my house, with two other people and me, we create about one or two bags of trash per month. Not many, but still difficult to get rid of. This is how it works. There are no trash companies that come by every week, twice a week to collect our waste. Plus we live on a dirt pathway, not a street. The collection of trash is managed by the town municipality and consists of a huge dump truck and a small pick-up truck that drive around town honking a special, distinguishable horn to signal that it is near and that all should come running with their bags of trash. When we hear the horn, Gary(my roommate)and I look at each other with that look. The look that says, "We need to get our asses to the street! Like now!". The anxiety of missing the trash truck is too much.
We then promptly grab the bag or bags or whatever else we are trying to get rid of and run down the pathway to hopefully not miss the truck. There is no regular schedule for the trucks passing so if we miss it, we must just wait until next time. I hate having to carry trash back to the house.
If we are lucky enough to not miss it, we happily give our trash to the men and pay 1 quetzal(Guatemalan currency)per bag. Likely this payment of roughly 12 cents per bag is a tip for the collectors of trash, fine by me, they deserve it. After the trucks are full, they drive up the road on the volcano, pull over, and dump the trash in a sort of designated area, right off the side of the road. Upon seeing this heap of filth the first time, covered with street dogs and vultures, I came to realize why people throw their trash just anywhere. It seems as though people would rather spread it out as opposed to concentrating it in one area. Plus, I know there are families here who chose to not pay to throw their trash.
Sounds crazy, coming from such a well managed country, in terms of waste disposal. Then this thought crosses my mind; trash in our country is so well managed because if it wasn´t, considering the sheer amount of waste the United States creates, the country would be have been buried beneath its own filth long ago.
And ultimately, I draw this conclusion: though some of the things I have just written about how trash is delt with may seem horrifying, the people here in San Pedro and in Guatemala in general produce a signficantly less amount of trash than most Americans could ever dream. So, though it may dishearten me to see kids and adults alike throwing their chip bags and water bottles anywhere, it may be the only trash they throw all week.