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

By Eddie Galdamez  |  Aug 27th, 2021
Trash problem in El Salvador
Trash 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 who live in the country have gotten used to seeing this problem and ignoring it. They see trash on the streets as an everyday thing part of life in El Salvador.

As a Salvadoran society, we need to look at this problem and deal with it as soon as possible. Otherwise, water pollution and air quality will get worse.

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

It has gotten so bad that some of our 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 in them 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 and local governments not properly collecting trash.

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 trash in the streets, 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.

Francisco Gavidia University in a 2020 report stated that: “Salvadorans do not have a culture of cleanliness as they throw garbage anywhere.”

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,” stated the report.

Local governments and the trash problem in El Salvador

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

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 trash cans leads to some people throwing their trash on the streets. 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 in the collection of waste in some municipalities. The lack of garbage collection by municipalities causes the increase of piles of trash in streets. This has been a common thing to see in the last two years in urban areas, especially in San Salvador.

By not timely collecting garbage, 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.

Trash issue in El Salvador
Photo by Andrea Osorio

Not everyone ignores the trash problem in El Salvador.

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.

An example of such an individual who spends time on the trash problem is Andrea Osorio. She is an industrial engineer with a master’s in Environmental Toxicology.

Andrea focuses on making people aware of the garbage problem. She gives talks to educational institutions and private companies on subjects related to pollution in El Salvador.

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.

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, which will lead to having less drinkable water and more health problems.

1. Contaminated rivers.

Today, a large percentage of rivers in El Salvador are already contaminated. River pollution due to trash is scary because many Salvadorans use water from 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.

3. Less drinkable water.

Trash has a direct effect on the quality of the drinkable water supply. Having 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. 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.

The following are some ideas of how we can get involve and help solve the issue. Some of them might seem simplistic, but they are worth mentioning.

Stop throwing trash on the streets.

By far, this is the first thing that we need to do. A single person is not going to solve this issue; but, if you and I do our part and completely stop throwing trash in the streets, things will get better.

Teach the next generation about trash problems.

We need to make future generations 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 adult figures 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. I am aware that some municipalities don’t have a recycling system, and that brings me into the next thing to do.

Get involved with the local government.

Get involved with the local government in your municipallity; 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 involve and volunteer to clean a river, lake, or the beach. There are local organizations that can use your help in collecting garbage from the streets.

The ideas mentioned above can be implemented to help resolve the issue our beautiful country is dealing with. We need to get involved and find a solution to this problem.

Local street
Trash in El Salvador street.

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; also, air quality in El Salvador is something that we need to pay attention to as well. We need to leave a better country for our grandchildren.


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