We all put our recycling out (at least I hope we do!), but how many of us wonder what actually happens to it. Today we found out.  As part of the trip we volunteered at the local recycling centre – it may not sound like a prize, but it was great fun, rewarding, hard work and a fantastic opportunity to meet some of the “real” islanders.  We also learnt more Spanish that morning than any other time so far.

We began the day with a tour of the facility, seeing what they were able to recycle – glass, plastics, paper, metal, organicos (anything compostable) – that was the smelly bit!  As well as some of the products made from the recycled materials such as concrete that contained recycled glass.  I bet that looks lovely when polished down as a floor.

Then we had a tour of the interpretation centre where we learnt what the Galapagos islanders are doing to live sustainably.  In many ways they are much more advanced than us back in the UK.  They have been separating waste for over a decade.  Then it was time to get hands on.

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I was assigned to help Henry on the compactor.  It began with me being given a pair of latex gloves and told to climb into a trolley full of paper.  I then had to load the paper into the compactor.  Within 5 minutes I was drenched with sweat and the gloves were shredded, but the compactor was full.  Henry then showed me how to operate the machine, I was surprised at his trust in me since he spoke no English and my Spanish only really works in restaurants.  Anyway with lots of gestures and repetition I was able to compress the paper into a bale and not break the most important machine in the plant.

I then learnt how to bale up the compressed paper, using a tensioner and a crimper to join the ends of the plastic strapping together.  Henry and I then trolleyed the bale to the weighing station, recorded its weight (70kg) and then stacked the bale to await shipping to the mainland for processing.  This was then repeated with cardboard, plastic bottles and metal cans.

The morning that we spent there flew by.  We all really enjoyed the camaraderie of working as part of a team.  The guys that worked there had a great sense of humour, even through the language barrier.  It was great to shake Henry’s hand at the end of the shift, feeling that we had done just a little bit to offset some of the harm to the Galapagos that all visitors inevitably bring with them.

We were all stinking at the end, but with broad grins on our faces.