The first word that comes to mind when you think of Argentina may be “steak,” perhaps choripán, or even “meat” in general. It’s no secret that leading an environmentally-conscious lifestyle and munching on meat (specifically beef) do not go hand-in-hand (unlike red wine and steak). So, it may not be brand-new information that Argentina as a nation is not as far up in the eco-chart as some other countries, such as Singapore or Finland. In fact, last year 16 million tons of food were thrown away in Argentina, and 90 percent of Buenos Aires’ waste ends up in landfills. That is a pretty horrifying amount of trash that does not end up being reused or recycled.
I won’t lie, it was a bit of a culture shock arriving in a country where environmental impact is not as high-up in priorities as it is in some other places I’ve lived. Apart from that time I lived in a student house and all societal norms were broken (breakfast at 5 PM was okay there) I lived following basic rules, such as separating glass from plastic. These unwritten regulations became a natural habit back at home in the UK, and this routine felt jolted out of its resting place when I moved here.
I must point out that I’m not some environmental warrior who scavenges berries and leaves off trees, buys only second-hand clothes, and has never used a plastic water bottle in my life. I kind of wish I were that girl, but unfortunately, I am simply a normal person who likes to turn the light off when I leave a room, use reusable water bottles, and eat consciously while considering the environmental cost of what I consume.
When consulting the 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI)‘s guide to the greenest countries this year, I was shocked by the list. The list takes into consideration several factors such as air quality, water resources, and biodiversity, and sure, Argentina certainly is not in the top ten. However, sometimes perception does not meet reality, and we are ranked only 74th out of the 180 countries examined. Not bad for a developing country full of beef fanatics who would most likely sell a kidney for an asado.
When I read this, I decided to research just how much was going on behind the scenes, before I started judging a country that I had only resided in for a little over two months. I was shocked to realize just how much is actually underway: there are NGO’s successfully working to minimize food waste, and there are all sorts of movements promoting the using reusable and recyclable products rather than single-use plastics. Also, Argentina boasts a wide variety of organizations and products that are cropping up that give porteños the option to live life with a more environmental purpose.
Below I have documented my journey of discovery for how much green goodness the city has to offer.
Plato Lleno is certainly a good place to start my journey. I discovered this NGO through a colleague, and later have seen it pop all over my social media accounts. Proyecto Plato Lleno is one of the most innovative NGO’s in Buenos Aires, helping minimize food waste as the first organization in the country that skips the middleman and provides a way for surplus food to go straight to those who need it.
The organization works with volunteers to save perfectly good food that otherwise would be wasted. “Perfect condition” seems like a lot to ask for “second-hand food,” yet so many times there is a problem with the order or a malfunction in cooking, or if there were too many made, or too little, so you need to make a new batch. Plato Lleno’s philosophy is that you have to work with what you have; regardless of whether you have to work with 300 tiny onion tarts or seven huge loaves of bread and a massive bowl of hummus.
I spoke to Rafel Barrio, the coordinator of Proyecto Plato Lleno who insightfully explained the country’s problem is distributing excess food. He says: “There is a sufficient amount of food in the world. It isn’t that we aren’t producing enough, but it’s more of a distribution problem.” The issues, then, are more logistical than anything else. Companies often do not want to waste their food, however, restaurants and cafes don’t usually have an option for their surplus product.
In fact, it’s the first alternative to food banks in the country. The primary difference between other NGO’s working with community kitchens is that there is no exchange of food and money. Rafael Barrio told me that they feel that asking the person receiving the food for an exchange of money would be bad practice, this would not tune into the values upon which this project was formed. Not only do they want to be environmentally-conscious but also ethically and morally sound, supporting the 32 percent of the population who live below the poverty line in Argentina.
So far they have saved 985 kilos of food in Argentina. If you want to get involved, or simply find out more, visit the website and get in contact with Rafael. This is a great option if you own (or work in) a restaurant, cafe, events company, or bar where you deal with large amounts of food.
There are many global movements pushed by various NGO’s to campaign to ban using straws in restaurants and cafes, using titles such as “The Final Straw” and a “Strawless Ocean.” Yet in Latin America, we have finally been hit by the Anti-Straw Train, and it is called #vidasinsorbete. You may well have seen this hashtag crop up on your social media accounts; the hashtag hopes to promote awareness at the redundancy of plastic straws. There really is no need to use them, and they have become a nasty habit that we have channeled to treat as necessary. Yet, it’s very difficult to think of that while you are sipping your chipped ice mojito.
Many restaurants in Buenos Aires have decided to use this hashtag and they have dumped the plastic straw. Verne Club, for example, is one of 20 bars to follow the campaign #mejorsinsorbete. Others include Soria, Divisadero Parador, and Festival; the campaign has also attracted pop-up bars in the capital as well.
Upcycling Fashion Shops
If you mooch around Las Cañitas you are more than likely going to find a whole army of vintage shops, as this is *almost* the vintage capital of the city. I was beckoned into one of these stores, as I saw an elegant boutique with purple neon writing and a warm interior. I walked in, and as I perused the price tags, I was definitely surprised to see a Nike sweatshirt in impeccable condition channeling 90s vibes was only AR $500, where usually in a “bougie” boutique, such an item would be in the AR $1,000+ range.
I had had no idea that Buenos Aires would come up trumps for recycling your clothes, as I have meandered around San Telmo market countless times, coming home with nothing but more empanadas from El Hornero. Here at Galpón de la Ropa on Jorge Newbury in Las Cañitas, you can bring in your unwanted items in good condition, and they will pay you either 30, 40, or 50 percent of its value, depending on whether you want cash, credit or card payment. There are a few other spots in Villa Crespo, Belgrano, and Almagro where you can either buy some very good-value items or sell your favorites.
Organic Food Markets
There are many organic and sustainably-conscious markets, shops and services all around the city. Leave Carrefour out of your weekly grocery routine and buy your fruit, veg, and dairy products from some of these websites or stores.
El Click is a great service where you order your fruit and veg to one of their locations around the city which provides 100 percent organic products. There are seven different stores, including spots in Belgrano, Palermo, Colegiales, and others; a kilo of fruit and veg costs AR $400.
As usual with this kind of store, you get an abundance of wacky products that are fresh that week. This may mean you’re knee-deep under 100 different types of papaya one week, or 3 kilos down of chard the next, but at least it’s a surprise! This week at The Bubble, we received a whole heap of rhubarb (see the photo below), which had us a little stumped. A few days later, we were presented with a rhubarb pie made by our intern, so it’s all about challenging that innovation.
You can also find this great community center called El Galpón in Chacarita which oozes organic living. This is a center where you exchange a wide variety of products which is open on a Wednesday and a Saturday which minimizes food (and other) waste.
El Galpón | Av. Federico Lacroze 4171 | Wednesday and Saturday 9 AM-6 PM
Growing Your Own Produce
For the green-fingered, I recommend dabbling in a wee bit of gardening to lower your impact on the environment. There are plenty of plant shops around the city and you can see the linked article below for more information. There are many spots around the city that offer lessons and workshops to help improve your own huertas so that you can grow your own herbs and vegetables, reducing the necessity of buying plastic-wrapped products.
A few garden centers offer free workshops, including Vivero Orgánico Sonyando which has an abundance of gratis workshops for children, adults, businesses, and they can even teach school classes. You can learn about how to create optimum compost, how to grow particular herbs (including medicinal herbs) and how to create fertile environments for your plants.
Vivero Organico Sonyando | Ladines 3611 | Villa Devoto | Monday – Saturday 10 AM – 7 PM
- Read more: The Best Plant Shops in BA this Spring.
Recycling Coffee & Tea
There are various movements of recycling your coffee waste and using it as compost for your veg. Many coffee shops around the city offer their wasted grounds for green-fingered folk, including Starbucks (good lord, a huge corporation finally doing something relatively selfless for the world?!).
However, the AAMF (Asociación Argentina de Marcas y Franquicias) have created a Coffee Recycling Program that was launched last year, which has so far managed to collect 15,488 kilos of coffee grounds nationally, which have then been collected and sent to Cosechando Vida who then redistribute the grains over different fields.
The Top Products to Buy in Buenos Aires
Apart from these excellent projects and movements that I have discovered in the city, here is a comprehensive list for everything eco-friendly that you can buy in Argentina. Some are global products, and others are locally produced in the country. I have bought a few of these out here, and I recommend stocking up on as many as you can to prevent wastage.
ApiWrap Reusable Food Covering
Using a reusable covering prevents the constant one-use cling film or aluminum foil. It is hand-made using 100 percent cotton fabric, beeswax, pine resin, and jojoba oil and there are plenty of different patterns to choose from, from turquoise blue spots to pink flowers. You can wash them up afterward like a dish, and then store them away in a drawer. They are AR $280 each, not bad when you think of how much money you’d save from constantly cling-filming everything! Their website is available here.
Tampons and sanitary towels are often wrapped in plastic, and completely non-recyclable. Close to 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons, and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year, according to a research by Luna Pads. The average woman uses over 11,000 tampons over her lifetime, which is a hell of a lot of plastic. We don’t think of this for being much of a waste, as for half the population, menstruation isn’t exactly a choice. There are still huge taboos over periods and all the faff that goes with it, yet it is very much time to understand the extent of the problem we will be dealing with. You can buy this on their website.
Pura Water Purifier
This prevents you from buying different plastic bottles time after time. Sometimes, you find yourself hot and sweaty walking downtown and you’ve forgotten to bring a water bottle. It thus is sometimes unavoidable. But there’s hope: you can buy a whole load of purifying products from Pura’s website, including purifying jugs, water bottles, purifying taps, inverse osmosis machines.
I would recommend a purifying jug, as the tap machines still require energy to run, and for the most impactful purchase the jug would not be using energy and continues to work for up to a year. The jug, which costs AR $2,100, eliminates 99.9 percent of chlorine, and nasty tastes or odors, and any other pollutants in the water. The jug itself lasts a lifetime, however, you need to update the filters annually. Shop online here.
Sentido Circular’s Metal Straws
Never again will you have to waste plastic daily, you can now buy stainless steel straws that you can take with you to cafés and restaurants. Not only are they 100 percent reusable and recyclable, but they also maintain the temperature of your drink. You can buy them as a pack of 6 or by themselves from MercadoLibre here.
Reusable Shopping Bags by Sentido Circular
Sentido Circular also produces some locally made artisanal bags that are not only reusable and recyclable, but also biodegradable and compostable. It is an excellent way to prevent using plastic bags, and there are three different types available: a gauze bag, for loose vegetables and fruit like cherries or grapes; a semi-closed small bag that you can use as a lunch bag; or a closed canvas bag to transport big loads of shopping. They’re available to buy from their site here.
So, here you have a few tips to help combat this huge global problem. If you are as depressed as I am by recent surveys and stats presenting horrifying predictions of the global damage we will face in the next few years, it’s always best to try and follow these programs to reduce as much as we can.