SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA – “Campesina conservacionistas” are changing attitudes and making an extra buck by educating their communities about the importance of recycling and by giving new life to items found most often in the trashcan.
ReciclArte, based in San José and operating as a project within the Costa Rican environmental non-profit organization Asociación Terra Nostra, is a group comprised solely of women who aim to protect the environment through training, education and creating artful accessories from recyclables. These women are appropriately dubbed “campesina conservacionistas,” or “rural conservationists.”
“It’s a miracle, an absolute miracle, the quality of the things that they are doing,” said Alexis Fournier, founder of ReciclArte. “I find what they do amazing.”
The women, who number just over 20, are behind the creations sold by ReciclArte and are trained supporters of their cause. They educate their communities about recycling by means of beach cleanups, school talks and environmental fairs. It’s only after work hours, or in their free time, that the women actually create their works of art – bracelets, necklaces, earrings and handbags – made entirely from pop tabs and scrap fabric.
“We’re all in this thing trying to make it work,” Fournier said. “It’s a militant activity more than creativity. They (the women) are the living example of what needs to be done.”
Some of the participating communities are located in Escazú, Coto Brus, Los Mogos, Bagaces, Isla de Chira, Palmar Norte, and Talamanca.
“It touches people where they are,” Fournier said. “It’s grassroots. I didn’t teach them (the women) how to recycle. They knew that recycling was important and they were doing it already. This is just an additional support activity, alternative revenues for something they wanted to do.”
Fournier said that changing attitudes about recycling and even social justice is absolutely fundamental to bring effective change into any community. According to their website, “RecyclArte doesn’t train women to make and sell eco-jewelry, rather it makes and sells eco-jewelry to train women.”
ReciclArte is sold by a broad range of sellers, from an organic coffee plantation in Heredia in the central valley, to the beaches of Playas del Coco in Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio further south. Their main goal is to protect the environment and train their communities to recycle.
“(It’s) feel-good jewelry,” said Carla Knoche, an employee of ¡Ciao Bella! a shop featuring multiple displays of recycled jewelry. “It doesn’t cost anybody anything.”
Knoche explained that recycled jewelry has become increasingly popular among tourists. She says that it is important for people to support groups, such as ReciclArte, which aim to aid their community’s recycling efforts.
“It’s community inspired and community based educational effort. Environmental protection effort. And I think those grassroots, very fundamental local community activities, are the most vital because they are the most effective in promoting change in attitudes,” Fournier said.
The efforts of Fournier and the women behind ReciclArte are an example of the desire to recycle that exists in Costa Rica.
“A lot of people realize this is necessary,” said Fournier, who believes that Costa Rica is ahead of other countries in recycling efforts.
Karen Artavia, owner of ARAS in Heredia, offered a different view. She said that though recycling is important, and the efforts of those behind recycled jewelry and art is beneficial, it is really only taking hold in big cities or places that have recycling programs in place.
“Fashionable, but not cultural,” Artavia said. “It’s really important because it’s something that could have been thrown away but we can pick it up and make use of it,” she added.
Above is a map of participating groups around Costa Rica.