Basura Cero: Project Wrap-Up and Moving Forward

Fun fact: Paraguay was the hottest country in the WORLD last week. Real feel was above 100 degrees every day for what seemed like forever. Because we were busy melting our faces off, blog writing got put on the back burner.

At the beginning of December, we wrapped up a project that we are particularly proud of called Basura Cero = Escuela Saludable (Zero Trash = Healthy School). We posted a little something about  Basura Cero introducing the project when we started, and now 11 weeks later we have a winner!

 From the beginning of our time here in our site, there has been a lot of discussion around trash. We are luckily one of the few sites that has a trash management system, with trash collection occurring in the urban center. That being said, participation in the system is low, it lacks classification of trash, and there is not a lot of conscious thought on the individual level about trash management. When we first arrived in site, we started speaking with classes, teachers, the municipality, and the ecological committee about what we can do together to better the community’s trash management. After several months of failed attempts at other projects, we decided to design a Basura Cero competition that would hopefully work for our community.

Basura Cero = Escuela Saludable (Zero Trash = Healthy School) is a worldwide initiative with several iterations in different countries. Here in Paraguay, many Peace Corps Volunteers start competitions within the schools in their communities, to encourage better trash management behavior. The idea is to go beyond just teaching best practices of trash management, but to use a set of rules and a competition to raise awareness on how we interact with trash every day. We started planning for our Basura Cero project in July and ran our pilot program for 11 weeks in 5 schools within the central part of our district, with a total of 1,200 teachers, principals, and students participating to varying degrees.

The premise of the project was pretty simple: every week, we went to each of the 5 schools and conducted an evaluation, based on a set framework of how to earn points. A few examples of ways schools could earn points:

  •       0.5 points for each trash can marked inorganic, organic, and recycling.
  •      0.5 points for each of these containers that had all trash classified correctly.
  •       Up to 10 points for making an organic compost and maintaining it
  •       Up to 10 points for having signs with environmental messages in the schoolyard area.
  •    40 points for a class trip to the town landfill or the waterfall park in our district.
  •    50 points for working with the cafeteria to reduce waste – using reusable cutlery/plates, or having kitchen employees put cooking scraps into the compost.

There were several more ways to earn points, and what schools decided to do week to week varied a lot. Basically, we would show up and walk around with a group of students to evaluate the school yard, and then speak with the teachers and principals about projects of the week.

This pilot project had a lot of flaws. For example, the students made a bunch recyclable classroom items, like pencil holders, that we didn’t have space for in our points framework. But, overall, this project went really well. It was a combined effort from our municipality, the ecological committee, and the schools. The ecological committee aided in evaluations, motivation/support for their classmates in school, made multiple presentations on various topics, and so much more to help and support us and the community. The municipality from day one was supportive of our plan, and our contacts Ramon and Daisy completed multiple evaluations at schools. Additionally, the municipality paid for new trash cans for every participating institution, as well as a big celebration and sign for the winning school.

Each week of the competition when we showed up for an evaluation, we were in shock about how much work was done at the schools. Here are a few of the results from the project:

  •  4 Eco Benches – Made out of ecobricks (plastic bottles stuffed full of plastic bags)
  • 11 trips to the municipality dump
  • 14 trips to the district waterfall ecological park
  • 15+ new composts in schools and surrounding neighborhoods
  • 35 signs with environmental messages
  • 100+ organic, inorganic, and recycling bins placed in schools and surrounding houses
  • 120+ kg of plastics diverted from the landfill to go into ecobricks
  • 302 tires reused as planters, seats or other
  • 100+ hours of presentations and celebrations of environmental holidays
  • Countless recycled art projects
  • 1,038 students participating
  • 122 teachers involved
  • 5 educational institutions

What began as an idea and a competition to win “cleanest school” quickly transformed into something more. We would run into parents in the street that told us how their students were teaching them to classify trash. Others would become upset when they saw a neighbor burning trash. One cantina at a school decided to give extra fruit salad to students that brought a reusable cup from home. Students as young as preschool were separating their trash, making recycled art projects, planting trees, and so much more. It was an incredible 11 weeks, and we are excited for what next year holds!

Since the project ended, we have spoken with the superintendent’s office about updating some aspects of the project, and expanding to more schools next year. We have started a review process, and are working on a new project plan now. Basura Cero Year 2 starts February 2019, with close to 20 schools. Fingers crossed it will all roll out smoothly.

But for now, we are going to enjoy summer vacation, and the stifling heat…

Happy Holidays! We hope that you all have some time to spend with loved ones.

Much love,

Alli and Dylan

Here’s a bunch of pictures!

“Don’t throw trash in the patio”

Lettering made of tetrapak
“Support our school in the campaign of zero trash”

A sign made of soda caps
Rules of Basuro Cero at one school
The world is an act of art. Don’t throw your trash on it
Sign made from recycled straws
Trash classification
Mixing a compost

New trash cans

Bench made from eco bricks
“Care for nature and it will care for you”
“A tree is a being that lives in order to give us life”
New tree planters

Presenting the winning school!
School trip to municipality dump

New Trash Cans







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Jeanetta and Eric
Jeanetta and Eric

This is so exciting! I’m so happy you guys are doing this and wish you more success stories! It’s so important to understand That the things we use everyday can have an impact in the future and last generations, especially the things that are meant to be used once for such a short period. We miss you and hope to see you again soon when you return to the states.

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