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On the shores of majestic Lake Atitlán, in the highlands of southwestern Guatemala, the small town of San Pedro La Laguna has quietly become a national pioneer against plastic pollution, one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.
"When I took office, the municipal landfill was saturated with plastics and most of the waste ended up in the lake," says Mauricio Méndez, the town's mayor, which has a population of approximately 14,000 inhabitants, 90% of indigenous Mayan origin . "We needed to act fast."
After consulting with the community and religious leaders, Méndez obtained municipal approval to prohibit the sale and distribution of disposable plastic bags, straws and expanded polystyrene containers. In doing so, San Pedro La Laguna became the first community in Guatemala to dispose of single-use plastics.
The replacement of plastic brought with it the use of biodegradable materials and the town returned to its origins. Now the bread is kept on napkins woven by artisans; meat, fish and cheese are wrapped in banana leaves and grocery purchases are deposited in woven palm baskets.
The initiative has managed to reduce the consumption of synthetic materials by up to 80 percent, and recycling programs and centers were opened.
"This is our own will, no one forces us," said Nicolás Tumax, representative of the fishermen who are also organized to collect the garbage that floats around the community.
During this cleaning, Tumax ensured that they extract 600 to 700 garbage bags from Lake Atitlán all year round, using its own resources. They have also implemented a waste separation and recycling system, an unusual undertaking in Guatemala.
All the products that have replaced plastics have helped to significantly reduce waste and also have increased income among artisans by creating a circular economy.
Without a doubt a great example that should be implemented worldwide.