There’s always time to say thanks to your local garbage man. Photo: Oliver Berger
There’s always time to say thanks to your local garbage man. Photo: Oliver Berger

By Oliver Berger –

I am writing this column to you today from a beautiful island off the coast of Chile called Isle de Chiloé. It is one of Chile’s largest islands, and it is currently at the beginnings of becoming a popular tourist destination for travellers from all around the world, especially Chileans themselves. Boasting some unique features such as the home of many wooden churches now preserved as part of UNESCO World Heritage sites, it’s also one of the few places in Chile you can view the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins that migrate to this area for the mating season. It truly is wonderful.

Sometimes I fight with the thought of travelling to these wonderful places, though, mainly because the thought of the carbon emissions from the airplane I’m flying in ticks in the back of my mind. All the extra plastic packaging from which they serve the airplane goodies and meals makes me cringe. It’s hard to combat these, especially because of the restrictions on what you’re allowed to take on airplanes nowadays. However, my trusty refillable mug served great for me when the flight attendants offered me drinks. Plus, I got much more than if you normally opt for the little throw away plastic cup. Score.

Now as I travel around this beautiful island, I observe many things that maybe the regular tourist would not. I see garbage, not just the type you see laying on the ground no matter what country you visit, but more so the garbage cans—where they are, where they are not, how often you see them, and how they separate their basura (garbage). I observe this not only to see and participate, but also to learn and perhaps teach. I mean, I’ve already met the local garbage truck drivers.

I have seen that Chiloé is also beginning to learning to separate different types of garbage. The more popular touristy areas have separate cans for plastic, tin cans, glass, garbage, and sometimes organics. When you look inside the can, however, it doesn’t seem to quite register… yet. I see an effort, though, and perhaps it’s only an opportunity to look good for us foreigners, but I think it is an excellent first step.

Photo: Oliver Berger
Photo: Oliver Berger

However, there are other habits down here that are very inspiring. Due to the lifestyle and lack of good paying jobs, people become creative. The power of necessity can be amazing. First off, things don’t always have to be perfect or new, mostly just functional—like using old plastic bottles to make a seat or perhaps to become a downspout for your make-shift gutters. Left over irrigation pipe? Why not use it as a replacement fence post? If you need to make a wall hanger, you grab any piece of wood and some old cutlery or nails … because you need to, not because it’s fashion. The repurpose craze going on at home now, where we buy these high priced items made out of old barn wood or salvaged metal, is not a craze down here, but more a way of life. When something breaks here, it gets fixed, not so much replaced. And then fixed again, rinse, and repeat. This is something I think our first class society forgot somewhere.

A great pop bottle re-purpose - only functionality matters here.  Photo: Oliver Berger
A great pop bottle re-purpose – only functionality matters here. Photo: Oliver Berger


Places like the Share Shed don’t exist, because most things that do go in the garbage really are at the end of their lives. You will more likely find someone trying to make some extra cash off these last minute items along the street side somewhere.

I became friends with one of the local hostel owners here in the city of Ancud, and he has taken some waste diversion into his own hands. They collect batteries, have a super productive compost setup, and collect tin beer cans for recycling at a local metal place in town. Also, because there is no local recycling for glass or plastic bottles, he opts to collect these and redistribute them back to the locals who reuse the glass bottles for homemade wine, and the larger plastic bottles for homemade apple juice (chicha). I have witnessed most of these acts myself so I can definitely say this one is true and not just for show.

Even your garbage can deserves a second chance. Photo: Oliver Berger
Even your garbage can deserves a second chance. Photo: Oliver Berger

Recently, I went camping to a common scenic bay South of Ancud. It was a pleasant five-hour hike along the beach and then over a mountain into a little piece of paradise on the Pacific Ocean. During my stay I noticed I was pretty much the only tourist from north of the equator, which was a perfect opportunity to practise my Español. I spoke with many people about the island and my life at home. A common question was, “What is your job in Canada?” It was a tough question for me to answer specifically; however, the conversation always led into my waste management and recycling gigs. Considering the lack of recycling and waste management down here I was quite surprised at how intrigued everyone was about these topics. They had many curious questions. What I see is a society that wants to participate, and is ready to do so, but just currently maybe lacking the education or higher power initiatives.

The best thing about travelling for me really is the sharing of ideas, knowledge, and different ways of life. Keep it coming. Mi casa essu casa.


Oliver Berger has a 34-year degree in life, starting out in the Spokin Lake area, spending adolescence in Williams Lake, and then venturing throughout the world on a quest of always learning new things. His priorities include dedication to and education about waste management.




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