Puerto Natales Recycling Project
Since 2015, the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund, a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation, has provided over $6,000 in grant funding to the Municipality of Puerto Natales to install the town’s first permanent recycling system.
Located in Chilean Patagonia, the city of Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. Puerto Natales is home to 20,000 people; however, park visitation results in an additional 200,000 visitors flowing through the city annually. This population generates a substantial amount of waste. As tourist numbers continue to rapidly grow, there is an ever increasing need for waste reduction and waste management solutions in the surrounding community.
Historically, all of Puerto Natales’ waste has either been found scattered throughout the streets or piling up in the ever-expanding landfill on the outskirts of town. Fortunately, this all began to change in 2010 when the owners of Erratic Rock hostel, a mainstay for backpackers passing through Puerto Natales, decided to address the town’s waste management problems. Motivated by a desire to preserve the local wilderness and improve conditions for both residents and visitors, Erratic Rock took action towards developing a recycling solution.
Despite the lack of a formal infrastructure, Erratic Rock began to organize regular recycling days each week within their own business community to collect recyclable materials. These initial efforts were funded by Erratic Rock along with grant funding provided by Patagonia, Inc. through their 1% for the Planet contribution. When enough materials were collected to fill a shipping container, the container was added to existing cargo headed weekly on a ferry to Puerto Montt, home of the closest recycling facility, over 2,000 kilometers north.
Due to the success of this movement, the Municipality of Puerto Natales (MuniNatales) agreed to assume management of the operation in 2014. Although the transition provided increased local capacity for its continued success, the operation lacked the resources for expansion into a permanent infrastructure for the city. Erratic Rock continued to receive the grant funding from Patagonia through 1% for the Planet until the program was discontinued in 2014.
This is when the Legacy Fund stepped in to support the Puerto Natales Recycling Project. The initial grant provided by the Legacy Fund allowed MuniNatales to purchase five containers to act as clean points, or “puntos limpios.” These containers were distributed throughout the town for residents to dispose of their recycling. The effort was expanded when BORSI, a German thermoplastic processing company, agreed to sponsor the purchase of ten more containers. Every week, the material collected from the containers is transported to a collection center on the outskirts of town. The materials are then sorted and compacted by employees of Recipat, a local recycling company based in Punta Arenas. Once sufficient material is collected, everything is shipped via truck or boat to recycling centers in Puerto Montt and Santiago.
The “puntos limpios” are only the beginning of a more sustainable future for the community of Puerto Natales. With this small infrastructure in place, education and awareness-building are needed to promote the recycling system to the town’s residents and businesses. As the program continues to expand and recycling becomes a common practice for everyone in the town, the long-term plan is to develop a modern recycling facility in Puerto Natales that will service the entire Magallanes region.
Tourism will continue to grow in Torres del Paine National Park and the surrounding region. With this growth, it becomes increasingly important for the area to have systems in place to be able to manage the influx of people and the waste that they create.
Our Work in Torres del Paine National Park
The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation that is ensuring a more sustainable future for Chilean Patagonia.