Earth Day and the Perks of Plastic: Upcycling in Nicaragua

WaterAid trainee works on the construction of a sanitation module with recycled bottles
Image: WaterAid/Nathalie Fernandes

The Earth Day campaign to End Plastic Pollution has us thinking about the ways we use discarded plastics in our work when resources are scarce.

In Nicaragua, the use of plastic—whether bags or bottles—is a daily part of life. Every month, residents discard approximately 615,300 pieces of plastic that takes hundreds of years to break down. 

Plastic has its positives.

At WaterAid, we are committed to protecting the environment, and while plastic pollution is a huge problem, we have found that plastics can be put to good use. Discarded bottles are readily available, easy to clean, adaptable, and durable and have proven to be extremely useful in our work bringing improved water, sanitation and hygiene services to communities in Nicaragua.

How do we use recycled plastic materials?

  • As a lightweight material for the construction of walls around latrines and toilets

  • As a replacement for stones in the construction of different water systems, like rainwater harvesting tanks

  • As solar light bulbs in latrines and other sanitation modules

  • As filters in sanitation systems

Making recyclables sustainable

The use of these materials in our infrastructure projects is providing relief to communities in Nicaragua, while reducing the solid waste burden. To ensure the sustainability of this approach, we’re training young adults on the many uses of recycled plastic materials. By building local capacity, we hope to encourage an upcycling trend in Nicaragua as we pursue our core mission of improving water, sanitation and hygiene in the country.

There is still much work to be done in protecting our environment, but these ideas and methods are gaining traction. With each project that incorporates recycled materials, we are further motivated to explore how plastic can be helpful—and not harmful—in our communities.

This article was written by WaterAid Nicaragua’s Infrastructure Program Officer, Bismarck Bravo.