Talking Out the Trash

Exciting news folks … I have a new apprenticeship!

After three weeks of unsuccessfully searching for a new opportunity I was interested in pursuing in the nearby city of Cañar, I was feeling frustrated, a little defeated and anxious to have a purpose once again. As someone who is goal-oriented and finds contentment in busy days, the downtime that came in those few weeks was something I was unaccustomed to, and honestly, could not fully appreciate.

One afternoon finally proved promising after visiting the Empresa Pública Municipal Mancomunada de Aseo Integral del Pueblo Cañari (EMMAIPC). EMMAIPC is the local waste management company and where my host dad, Jeofre, works as a streetcleaner. A meeting with the gerente, or manager, of EMMAIPC (who I later discovered was a family member I had already met at my host sister’s baptism party!) finally resulted in an internship in the communications department with Fernando, Freddy and Yuji, a Japanese intern who is here for two years with a program likened to the Peace Corps.

My first day quickly revealed that this was going to be the perfect match. My co-workers were not only patient with my Spanish abilities and understanding of my need for them to speak slowly, but they were interested in including me in the workplace dynamic with jokes, political conversations (yes, Trump was a popular topic), nicknames and endless curiosity about my life, personality, likes, dislikes, my family, my thoughts on Ecuador and my knowledge of waste management in the United States.

A meeting within the communications department office during the initial week nearly brought me to tears because I was just so darn excited. Unlike my previous apprenticeship, it was evident that my input and my experience with sustainability initiatives was going to be greatly valued. The passion was contagious as my supervisor explained the vision for the contribution of Yuri and myself during our time with EMMAIPC. The goal was to have us share our observations about the differences between waste management practices in Cañar and our home communities and countries so that we could evolve the policies of EMMAIPC and continue to develop as a role model for other municipalities of Ecuador.

We would also be focusing greatly on environmental education and outreach with children at the local schools. As with many things, education is key to enforcing or reestablishing new habits, and Fernando, my supervisor, explained the challenges of confronting the relationship Ecuadorians, and people throughout Latin America broadly, have established with trash. The problem is that all waste is seen just as that: trash. Everything no longer useful to people is placed in a trash can, or unfortunately more often than not, on the sidewalks and streets, left to be scattered by stray dogs or be carried away by the wind or rain to pollute local water sources and ultimately contaminate crops and negatively impact the health of the people and surrounding environment.

I was given a tour of EMMAIPC’s facility by the engineers, and I was simultaneously very impressed with their success in directing materials out of the landfill and astounded by the amount of time, energy and resources that were spent on that exact effort through operating conveyor belts of trash. Employees would manually sort all of the waste from four different cities all day in order to separate it into food scraps, items to be sold to recycling plants, and trash to be packaged into bundles and buried in the dump, all because people were not separating the trash at the source in their schools, workplaces and homes.

But all of this manpower was necessary because the consideration of waste as not only trash but instead a valuable resource that could be recycled, composted or repurposed has not yet found its way into the mindset of the people. A reoccurring theme in our office discussions was the lack of responsibility of the people to seek harmony with Mother Nature through properly disposing of their waste. They paid for the services of EMMAIPC, so they felt entitled to continue throwing their trash on the ground or out the window, much less separate it into organics, inorganics and recyclables. The waste they generated was not their problem, once it left their hands: it was someone else’s.

This disconnect became a driving force behind EMMAICP’s slogan of “generamos limpieza y cultura ambiental” or “creating cleanliness and an environmentally conscious culture.” Not only are they cleaning the streets and collecting curbside trash to make sure it ends up in the proper place, but they encourage environmental awareness through activities, events and programs. The primary targets of this education are children because as the future generation, they have the most power to spread ideas and redefine the culture of their society.

About three months into my Global Citizen Year, I now realize that a fulfilling apprenticeship was the missing link in my experience. So far, I have felt useful and welcomed in the EMMAIPC office, and I cannot wait to see how I can continue to get involved in teaching my community the importance of proper waste management so that the people, their quality of life and all components of the natural world, from plants to animals and the air and water, can thrive!

If you are interested in hearing some of my observations about the differences between waste management in Ecuador and in the United States, I have included an audio recording and PowerPoint presentation of me talking about these discrepancies and what I propose as solutions. This was a large part of the first two weeks at my new apprenticeship, and it resulted in a 2,000-word document (in Spanish! Woot woot! I think I’m getting better!) that I gave to my supervisors at EMMAIPC. I also plan on doing my “This is Ecuador” project on this topic. Each Global Citizen Year Ecuador Fellow is charged with the task of investigating a topic that is interesting to them about the culture here, and I have decided to share with my peers my thoughts on waste management and how EMMAIPC, and Ecuador in general, can continue to develop their policies and practices, as well as a sense of responsibility among the people to properly dispose of their waste and care for their beautiful country.

Audio recording link:

Thank you all for reading! 🙂

Independent travel time for my program is coming up at the end of this month (and my mom is visiting!), so I will keep you all updated on our adventures throughout Ecuador!

I hope you all have a great week and happy holidays!

Con amor❤️,

Maddi 🙂

P.S. My fundraising efforts continue! Anyone who donates will receive a postcard from me! Donations of $25 will get a copy of one of my watercolors during my time here, donations of $50 will get a souvenir from in-country and donations of $100 or more will have an Ecuadorian meal prepared for them by me once I return home!

Also please check out my mom’s macrame projects on her Instagram! (@earthenergywellness). She is selling an assortment of beautiful pieces to help me reach my $2,500 goal! I would greatly appreciate any contributions!

Fundraising Page link: