An environmental group in Chile cleans up the garbage

In the summer, the river turns into a cemetery of random junk: from small trash to refrigerators, armchairs, and even car parts…The water looked brown, almost black, and smelled foul.

  • 1 year ago
  • March 2, 2023
4 min read
Claudia Sagredo is an ecotourist and founder of the Mapuko organization in Peñaflor. She has been a member for over four years, fighting to preserve nature and organizing clean-ups. Through workshops and activities, she aims to raise awareness on environmental issues and to restore Peñaflor’s vegetation.
The Mapocho river is one of the main rivers of the Metropolitan Region of Chile. It passes through more than 16 communes, one of which is the Commune of Peñaflor. According to a study carried out by the researcher John Wilkinson of the University of York in England, this river would be one of the most polluted in the world, due to the remains of pharmaceutical waste that get poured into it.
For over 12 years, the commune has beeb subjected to illegal dumps, causing immense destruction and contamination to the water and its surroundings.

PEÑAFLOR, Chile —  To me, nature links everything. Since early childhood, I walked to the riverbanks and through the hills, picking up trash along the way. It felt good knowing I left the environment cleaner than when I got there. 

I began to experience a deep connection to the environment around me. Then, another feeling arose. I watched as the beautiful commune where I grew up became polluted by garbage and illegal pharmaceutical dumps. Something had to be done. Together with a team of over 30 people, we made it our mission to clean up all of Peñaflor. 

We were up to our knees in black, contaminated water 

One day, we tried to clean up an entire sector of the river. We broke the work down into parts each day. The water looked brown, almost black, and smelled foul. You could see the extreme contamination. Swamp water filled our shoes and garbage stuck to our clothes. It felt challenging to keep from being sick, but we pulled through.

By the time we finished, the small area looked so clean, the hpride we felt meant more than the state of our clothing. We rushed home to shower and made plans to meet again the next day, this time to do another sector. 

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This work began in 2017. While on my weekend trips to Los Pozones, I met some old friends who belonged to an environmental preservation community. They picked up rubbish in public areas, among other things. I joined their team and never looked back. It felt like home to be with people who cared for the planet like I do.

Peñaflor remains one of the last communes where the Mapocho, the largest river in the Metropolitan Region, passes. As a result, it drags along garbage from all the other communes. The river passes through 16 communes in total and a lot of garbage piles up and stays here. In the summer, the river turns into a cemetery of random junk from small trash to refrigerators, armchairs, and even car parts. 

We fight for the future

After the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, most of our members left to find work in the city. Only two of us remained in the group at that time. Thankfully, we regained more members and stayed together in our mission to clean up Peñaflor. Along with weekly cleanups, we started giving lectures on environmental preservation.

We also hold eco-pedagogical outings where we conduct activities. We always seek to raise awareness among people, so they feel empowered in their own communities. It touches my heart to see all of us come together to ensure we do our part for humanity. We fight for future generations, for ourselves, and for ecosystems that slowly die from pollution.

While it may not be enough, it remains a better alternative to doing nothing. My love for Peñaflor and the environment motivates me every day. I hope that through this project, others witness the passion behind our initiative and join us. Human beings are receptive creatures, and whether we see it or not, our environment affects us. Being surrounded by clean, beautiful nature connects you with yourself. We built a clean space and began restoring a forest that got destroyed during an illegal dump of garbage. We have planted over 100 trees so far, and plan to add a thousand more.

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