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Santa Marta Waste Heroes

Improving livelihoods of waste collectors and reducing plastic pollution by collecting over 400 tonnes of plastic waste per year


In recent years public attention has increasingly been pulled towards the issue of ocean plastic, with disturbing images of sea turtles spearheaded with plastic straws and fish suffocated by single-use bags, circulating the media. In Colombia, the average person consumes around 288 single-use plastic bags a year, with much of these products ending up in the ocean and wreaking havoc on sea life. While Colombia’s government has made steps towards taxing single-use plastic, fighting marine litter that has entered the Caribbean Sea remains to be a mammoth task.

Plastic Collection

Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung

Decent work and economic growth

Participating organisations benefit

from skills development to increasing operational efficiency by participating in technical, administrative, and personal training. Access to medical services is also provided to workers.

Sustainable communities and cities

Providing waste management services

for Santa Marta & surrounding communities

Life on land

420 tonnes of plastic waste

collected and recycled annually through the project, protecting and preserving Santa Marta's environment and coastal ecosystems

The Solution

Situated in Santa Marta, on the northern coast of the Caribbean Sea, the project aims to address plastic pollution in the region by increasing local recycling rates and improving the livelihoods of waste collectors. The project formalizes the waste sector by bringing together waste collectors to form recycler associations and cooperatives, creating job opportunities and new markets for recycled plastic products. Workers involved in the project gather waste directly from households and companies in the city, taking it to a collection center where it is separated and sold to local recyclers for final processing. In addition, a citizen bonus is used to incentivize households to save plastics for recycling.


The Impact

By ensuring that waste is collected directly from consumers, the project effectively ensures that plastic does not enter the ocean and preserves the unique marine ecosystems of the Caribbean Ocean. As waste collectors typically work independently they are subject to low market prices for plastic waste. In turn, this limits their ability to negotiate fair prices with large-scale recyclers and stunts their possibility of scaling waste management services. By formalising waste cooperatives in the region, the project enables workers to earn higher wages, improving livelihoods and enabling longevity of the recycling network in the region. 

Project ID: 303891

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