How We Turned Used Plastic into Gold

Posted by Playa Viva on March 27, 2024

Back in the day, when the village of Juluchuca sat on the land that is now our farm, before the population moved upstream, the people that lived here would have traded natural resources in place of money. A bag of corn for 2 mangos, a box of sea shells for clay to build a house, etc. At the top of that monetary food chain was Cacao. The cacao seed was highly valued by the Maya and Aztec peoples for practical and cultural reasons. It eventually became an integral part of the Maya and Aztec economies. 

As part of our watershed cleanup project- Juluchuca Limpio- we are always looking for ways to engage the children of the watershed in responsible rubbish management. Ximena Rodriguez our Regenerative Education Coordinator who works across all the schools in the four communities had an idea. While we weren’t about to trade their rubbish for cacao- or chocolate as we know it today, Ximena saw an opportunity to incentivize the children to collect Plastic (PET) in return for school supplies. 

We are lucky to receive generous guest donations of school supplies through our Pack for a Purpose initiative so Ximena went about designing a new economic system. 2 bottles = 1x Toothbrush, a selection of erasers, 1x box of crayons. 5 bottles= items of clothing, 8 bottles= toys and stickers, 10 bottles= notebooks, colors and art crafts, etc. The date was set for the Ecotrueque*, the available items were sorted and the kids had 3 weeks to collect enough plastic bottles to trade for their dream items. *Trueque is an exchange of things that are of mutual interest for the participants, in our case we call it an Ecotrueque because at its core it is an eco-community event.

“When the kids arrived we quickly realized we had underestimated how much they would collect and I had undervalued the ‘currency.’ They each had huge bags packed full with 20 or more bottles which they were delighted to exchange for school supplies. It was a great activity to flip their perspective on rubbish from something easily thrown on the floor to something that holds value. We are looking forward to organizing more events in all the communities and seeing the ripple effect of this initiative. The kids from Las Placitas are already coming to class telling me how many bottles they have collected for our next event.”

On the day Ximena was joined by Osmaira Hernandez our Permaculture Node Lead and Larissa Hernandez our Turtle Sanctuary Coordinator who helped her bargain with the kids on the ‘exchange rates’ and set up games for the kids. All the plastic bottles collected were gifted to the local church which was able to sell the plastic to raise funds for renovations. 


And there you have it, how we turned plastic into gold* 

*In the eyes of the children 


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