Articulo Una Alternativa al plástico, foto portada.

An Alternative to Plastic: Organic Plates

Por María Recinos

In the municipality of Olintepeque, a group of women is working to reduce the amount of waste generated by bags, single-use plastics, and Styrofoam. It’s the group Estrellas Preciosas, which since 2009 has been leading environmentally friendly initiatives, and has for a while been making plates out of the leaves of the maxán plant (Calathea lutea) for serving food at the municipal market. EntreMundos had the opportunity to conduct an interview with these entrepreneurial women.

What is this project and how did it come about?

We started working as a group called Perlas Preciosas, but for a number of reasons this first group split in two. Thus, we decided to form our own group with the name Estrellas Preciosas in 2010.

In the beginning, there were eight women. Our goal was to support communities, and other women, so we decided to look for and coordinate with organizations such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food, which trained us in family gardening. In 2012, we received support to operate a tomato nursery with 15 women.

As we worked together, the group kept growing and we were given a small donation. We worked on an efficient stove project with 25 women. This allowed us to reduce the use of firewood. Later, we started forest nurseries, and were able to reforest a mountain in the municipality.

Currently, the group is made up of 15 women of different ages (youngsters, adults, and seniors). We try to involve women from different parts of the entire municipality.

How long have you been making organic plates?

We started to think about this idea last year, in 2019. We had already seen other uses for the maxán leaf, and we wanted to support the environment. We know that there is a lot of pollution from plastic bags, disposable plates and Styrofoam, and that these do not decompose easily. For this reason, we thought about using the maxán leaf, because when it decomposes it becomes earth-friendly compost.

We learned how to make these plates from videos on social networks, but we decided not to sell them. We want other people to join us in producing them and making the most of this product. In this way, we contribute to our community and encourage others to take care of the environment.

Have you had help from any other organization?

No, EntreMundos has been the first organization to express interest in our novel product. The press talked about it, but the article about our group of environmental women and why we are using this resource wasn’t the most accurate.

What have been people’s reactions upon seeing what you are making?

They see it as a good option. We have been congratulated on various platforms like our Facebook page. We’ve also received positive comments within our community. We believe that we are contributing bit by bit, teaching the community to not use disposable products. We have also been going back to the idea of not using disposable diapers. Women are now using cloth diapers like they commonly used to do, because they generate much less pollution.

How do you feel about being able to work together to care for the environment?

We feel very happy to be able to do it. Human beings generate pollution without moderation, and we don’t realize the damage that we are causing. Because of this, we want to keep teaching people to be conscious of pollution. We are proud that women can contribute to the protection of the environment and support even while doing our household chores.

Sometimes it is difficult and complicated getting women involved in environmental work, but we invite them to unite and do so because they can support the environment and gain personal satisfaction. Due to machismo, some women don’t participate because they cannot even leave their houses, but we believe that bit by bit they will get involved, which will allow us to keep working for this cause.

Do you have future plans? What do they look like?

Yes, we want to keep growing as a group and be more active. We want to be acknowledged by society so that we can become known both for the work that we do and for the foodstuffs that we produce, such as chocolate, for example.

What impact do we have when we use plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, and other plastics? Get to know the important facts about environmental damage and our health:

Did you know this about plastic bags?

–          According to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, it is estimated that each person in the world uses about 230 plastic bags each year, which means that 500 billion are scattered around the world and 1 million of them are thrown out each minute.

–          It can take a plastic bag up to 1000 years to decompose.

–          When they decompose in water or soil, they are exposed to solar radiation, which increases the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) causing global warming.

And what about Styrofoam containers?

–          They are extremely toxic. Polystyrene, which is what Styrofoam is made of, acts like a small sponge that, in water, collects and concentrates some of the most harmful pollutants found in water.

–          It’s estimated that they take 100 years to decompose.

–          Scientists have discovered that when hot beverages or foods are held in polyethylene containers, they absorb some of the chemicals, which you then ingest when you eat or drink. With time, this can cause reproductive problems or even cancer.

Other types of plastic, especially single use plastics:

–          Take generally 100 years to decompose

–          Are one of the main causes of floods. A lot of plastic waste is swept up by water and carried away to places such as drainpipes, causing them to collapse.

–          Are petroleum products, and thus it isn’t recommended that we burn them, as they produce harmful gases that are bad for our health and the atmosphere.

–          There are between 5 and 50 billion microplastics floating in the sea, not including those in the seabed or on beaches. Each second, more than 200 kilograms of plastic are thrown into the seas and oceans.

–          When in rivers and seas, if they get mixed into the food chain, they can put sea life, as well as human health, at risk.

–          Poison both the soil and air, causing imbalances in the ecosystem.