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One Man’s Trash is an OG Volunteer’s Treasure

Plastic, plastic, plastic.  Our world is filled with it, but perhaps it is only when you are knee deep in it, pulling chip wrappers, straws, half-eaten candy bags, styrofoam take-out containers, old shoes and plenty of plastic pop and water bottles that are wrangled in reeds or stuck between tree roots will you stop to question, ask and realize just how much of it we really use—and why?

Here at Operation Groundswell, we are big fans of hands-on experiential learning. Hands-on learning means getting dirty!

Lago Atitlan is Guatemala’s third largest freshwater body. It is a serene lake surrounded by several large volcanoes, namely: San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman.  The panoramic view from high above the lake is impressive and steals one’s breath away with its beauty. This natural crater filled with water runs approximately 300 meters deep and was estimated to have been made millions of years ago by a large volcanic eruption. The lake is dotted with pueblos and peoples that speak mainly by Kackchikel and Tzutuhil.

Tragically, the lake has been facing severe environmental threats over the years including, but not limited to, run off from farms and poor waste management. Just a short walk around the lakeshore makes it is easy to understand the lack of education around waste. Wrappers, bottles, chip bags, combs, gasoline tanks, needles and bits of colorful plastic all line the shore.

Enter OG’s very own bottle brick project….at the hub!   It may not be the perfect solution to the lake’s waste problem, but hey, it’s a start.

The idea:  Create a recycling and garbage disposal box made from stuffed plastic bottles bricks using experimental methods and collected trash around the shoreline of Lago Atitlan. The box will serve as a model of possibility for other community projects.

recycling box

The Ingredients:

  1. Trash, and lots of it, especially plastic bottles.
  2. Puppies and power tools.
  3. Planks of 2×4 locally purchased wood and chicken wire for the frame.
  4. Music and motivation.

The method:

We split into two teams.

Team A– Trip leader Robin, Matt, Lexi, James and Julisa set out accompanied by Raul, a leader in cultural tourism and a friend from San Juan.  We began our first morning with garbage bags in hand collecting as much trash as humanly possible from morning until later afternoon.

Team B—Trip leader Ben, Camille, Jo and Thomas sought out wood, power tools, chicken wire and other supplies to create the frame for our very own bottle project.

The madness: We have two days to do this all in! Can we make it?


Raul, our friend and cultural tourism guide from San Juan La Laguna, volunteered to join our team for garbage collection!

Raul, our friend and cultural tourism guide from San Juan La Laguna, volunteered to join our team for garbage collection!

We sorted all of our trash and selected bottles to be washed, bleached and dried. Then we stuffed them full with selected trash to make bottle bricks!

Team B supplied the purchased goods: chicken wire and wood to build our recycling box frame.

The ultimate countdown:

After collecting nine bags full of trash under 5 hours, cutting, measuring and drilling through wood, hours of washing, sorting, drying trash and finally stuffing over 30 bottles full of trash (you’d be surprised how much trash can fit into a single bottle!), our team managed to get the beginning of our recycling box completed.

The joys and benefit to the OG experience is understanding the beauty of the process of our projects. Due to time restrictions, we were unable to fully see our project through to fruition but, have no fear, other teams of OG participants will pass through our hub soon enough and continue to work and build on the model that we have begun with the hopes to spread this out into the local community.

Great work Extreme team!

what are you waiting for?