Plastic banned at Machu Picchu

January 28th, 2009

Anyone with any sense hates plastic bottles – the non-biodegradable waste they cause and the blighting of the landscape when people carelessly throw them away. And you would think people visiting world famous and historic sites such as Machu Picchu would have more respect – but no, one of the first things I noticed when I visited were dozens of plastic bottles on the way up, and yet more scattered around the ruins.

Plastic bottle, Machu Picchu - © John Zwinck

Plastic bottle, Machu Picchu – © John Zwinck

Pointing fingers is not something that bothers me, so I’ll do it here. Peruvian school children. There was one plastic water bottle that appeared among the ruins after Peruvian school children passed through, and at historic sites across Peru, most of the damage – and the damage is usually extensive or at least very noticeable – is caused by young Peruvians with no respect for their heritage. Lack of respect is also a problem among Peruvian adults, because despite Peru’s vast tourism revenues, its institutions are given next to no funding to protect historic sites from having names graffittied on to them.

At Machu Picchu at least, the war against dumped plastic bottles is about to be quickly and efficiently won. All plastic disposable bottles will be banned from the region all together. From the 17th of April tourists won’t be able to buy them at – or even bring them into – Aguas Calientes or the ruins at all.

“This measure responds to the necessity of avoiding a negative environmental impact caused by the use of these plastic bottles,” explained Edgar Miranda, the mayor of over-priced tourist-trap Aguas Calientes, the town that ridiculously changed its name to Machu Picchu Pueblo.

The town’s workers have to work through 18 sacks of plastic bottles that have been properly disposed of each day to separate them from other organics and inorganics that can be recycled locally. Banning plastic bottles altogether is estimated to save 40,000 soles a month in costs to move the waste by train to nearby Cusco.

Aguas Calientes has other plans on the books, namely replacing plastic bags with paper ones and joining forces with private organisations to fight against pollution.

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