Puerto Natales is home to 20,000 people and welcomes over 200,000 visitors annually. Up until 2010, all of the waste produced from locals and visitors was sent directly to local landfills due to a lack of education and attention paid to waste management and a lack of other available disposal options.
That is when two owners of a local hostel decided to address the problem. Having seen successful recycling programs in other destinations, they decided to convert a space on their property to serve as a temporary storage facility for the town’s recycling. Organizing regular recycling days each month, the hostel owners drove throughout town collecting bottles and cans from local tourism businesses. When enough material was available to fill a shipping container, it was brought down to the local port to be added to existing cargo headed weekly on a ferry to Puerto Montt - home of the closest recycling facility, over 2,000 kilometers North.
The project has been so successful that the Puerto Natales Municipality has now assumed management of it. In addition to the recycling program, reuse efforts are being developed including a project that converts old tents into shopping bags, thereby limiting local plastic bag consumption.
The short-term goal of the project is to increase residents’ awareness of the program, including why it is important to participate, and how to get involved. As participation increases, the volume of recyclable materials will grow, so plans are also in place to create a larger temporary storage facility in town and increase the frequency of shipments to the Puerto Montt facility.
The long-term goal of the project is develop a modern recycling facility in Puerto Natales that will service the entire Magallanes region.
As tourism continues to grow in the region, it will become more and more important for the area to have systems in place to be able to manage the influx of people and the waste that they create.
UPDATE: The Legacy Fund provided a $2,500 grant to Muninatales in June of 2015 to purchase and install the first five clean points in Puerto Natales