Opinion: The trash problem in El Salvador. It can’t be ignored anymore!

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Nov 11th, 2022
Trash problem in El SalvadorTrash in a Salvadoran street. Photo by Oscar Machon

The trash problem in El Salvador is an issue that has been around for years and continues to grow. Over 60% of urban areas have problems with trash in sidewalks, vacant lots, parks, empty fields, and alleys. Garbage is one of the principal reasons the country has poor water quality and high air pollution.

Many people in the country have gotten used to seeing this problem and ignoring it; they see trash on the streets as part of everyday life in El Salvador. Salvadoran society needs to look at this problem and deal with it as soon as possible; otherwise, water pollution and air quality will continue to deteriorate.

The trash problem has gotten so bad that some rivers are so polluted that many people won’t swim in them anymore. Additionally, some of our lakes, lagoons, and rivers have so much trash that it affects fish and wildlife.

Why do we have so much trash on the streets?

Well, this is a question that is not that hard to answer. It is a combination of Salvadoran society not focusing on keeping the country clean, local governments not properly collecting trash, and not punishing those individuals or companies that illegally dispose of garbage.

Salvadoran Society and the trash problem in El Salvador

We are having this problem because most of us don’t recycle and openly throw trash in the street. We go to the beaches, rivers, or lakes and don’t think twice about throwing garbage out in the open, even if there are trashcans nearby. Also, while taking the bus or driving, we don’t have a problem throwing trash out the window and into the streets.

In a 2020 report, Francisco Gavidia University stated, “Salvadorans do not have a culture of cleanliness as they throw garbage anywhere.” That sentiment remains the same in 2022.

People throw garbage from vehicles and buses and pedestrians throw food scraps, cigarette butts, empty bags, and anything else anywhere. The Salvadoran population does not collaborate in terms of depositing the garbage in the appropriate places.” Francisco Gavidia University.

Trash problem in El Salvador
Trash in a Salvadoran street. Photo by Oscar Machon

Local governments and the trash problem in El Salvador

Many local governments are part of the trash problem in El Salvador. These municipalities don’t see the trash problem as a priority; they don’t have the means to resolve the problem or don’t know how to deal with it.

Adding to this problem is that urban areas in many municipalities don’t have trash containers installed in strategic places such as parks, near schools, or heavy traffic sidewalks. The lack of trashcans leads to people throwing their trash out in the open. By placing more trash cans in these areas, local governments could help reduce the Salvadoran trash problem.

Another problem that points to more garbage in the streets is the low frequency of garbage collection in some municipalities; the absence of garbage collection results in increasing piles of trash. This problem has been a common thing to see in the last two years in urban areas, especially in San Salvador.

By not collecting garbage properly, municipalities force people to dispose of trash in uncontrolled illegal dumps or dumps located in the most diverse places, such as vacant lots, fields, sidewalks, alleys, green areas, and highways.

On the edge of the Los Chorros road, there is a trash dump. One started it and the others for convenience followed it. Your actions have great power. Do not throw garbage in the street, occupy garbage cans, and wait for the trash collectors.” Andrea Osorio.

Not everyone ignores the trash problem in El Salvador.

It is necessary to point out that not everyone in El Salvador throws trash on the street, doesn’t recycle, or doesn’t care about this issue. The country has many people involved in trying to solve this issue.

Also, not all local governments or municipalities don’t deal with the trash problem. Suchitoto is a municipality that seems to be dealing with the trash issue the right way. This small tourist municipality is one of the cleanest in El Salvador.

Trash in El Salvador
Pile of trash in a Salvadoran street.

Four effects of the trash problem in El Salvador.

If we don’t do something about the trash issue soon, the country will have more contaminated rivers and lakes. More contamination will lead to less drinkable water and more health problems. The following are four effects of the trash in El Salvador problem.

1. Contaminated rivers.

Today, a large percentage of rivers in El Salvador are already contaminated. This river pollution is scary because many Salvadorans use water from these rivers to bathe, wash clothes, and prepare food. Contaminated rivers are a massive problem for Salvadorans, especially for those in rural areas of the country.

2. Trash polluted lakes.

The trash in lakes is another problem facing El Salvador, especially plastic. Plastic items such as bottles and bags do not dissolve; therefore, they accumulate over time and affect the wildlife in the lake and its surroundings. An example of this issue became visible during the 2022 rainy season.

3. Less drinkable water.

Trash has a direct effect on the quality of the drinkable water supply in the country. Less potable water is a problem for the entire country; however, it is worse for the rural population. Rural communities have no access to running water; therefore, they depend on rivers and wells.

4. More health problems.

Piles of trash on the streets can cause severe health problems for communities, especially in impoverished areas. Garbage in the street is the perfect growing ground for insects and animals that can carry diseases and create health problems.

Pollution in El Salvador
Trash in a Salvadoran street.

How can we help solve the trash problem in El Salvador?

Solving the trash problem to reduce pollution in El Salvador has to be done by the entire Salvadoran community alongside the government. The following are some ideas of how we can get involved and help solve the issue. Some of them might seem simplistic, but they are worth mentioning.

Stop throwing trash on the streets.

Stop throwing trash out in the open is the first thing we need to do. A single person will not solve this issue, but if you and I do our part and stop throwing garbage in the streets, things will get better sooner.

Teach the next generation about trash problems.

Let’s make sure future generations are aware of what this problem might do to the environment; this has to start at a young age. If we teach one child that throwing trash in the streets is not correct, and the child stops doing it, that is a win for the environment and the country.

Let’s set an example for younger generations.

To make sure kids know about the trash problem in the country and do something about it. We, as adults, need to set an example for the younger generations. How can we ask them to stop throwing trash on the street if we do it; how can we ask them to care about the environment if we don’t care about it ourselves?

Recycle as much as possible.

We need to make an effort and recycle as much as possible or use less plastic. I am aware that some municipalities don’t have a recycling system, which brings me to the next thing to do.

Get involved with the local government.

Get involved with the local government in your municipality; make sure they are taking the steps necessary to deal with this problem. Two things that each municipality should have is a recycling system and a system for disposing of garbage the right way. Get involved!

Volunteer to clean.

Get involved and volunteer to clean a river, lake, or beach. There are local organizations that can use your help in collecting garbage.

Santa Tecla El Salvador.
Santa Tecla Park. Image by @SantaTeclaSV

Trash problem in El Salvador.

The pollution in El Salvador, especially the trash issue, is a big problem that we need to solve collectively as a society. We need to get involved and find a solution to this problem.