Cuba's Zero Waste Recycling Like You've Never Seen Before

Cuba Recycles EVERYTHING

Due to a decades-long trade embargo with the United States, which subsequently affected trade between Cuba and other countries, basic necessities can be impossible to find. This need has forced Cubans to improvise and find new, creative ways to solve everyday problems.

 Diapers out to dry and re-use in Baracoa, Guantanamo

Diapers out to dry and re-use in Baracoa, Guantanamo

 Sawed-off beer bottles make great sugar cane juice cups in Bayamo, Granma

Sawed-off beer bottles make great sugar cane juice cups in Bayamo, Granma

 Old beer cans double as flan baking tins in Holguin

Old beer cans double as flan baking tins in Holguin

Restaurants operating out of small homes bake custard into the bottom halves of old aluminum beer cans and take-out restaurants serve fresh sugar cane juice in glasses made of sawed-off beer bottles. Homemade hot sauce and tomato puree are sold in Havana Club rum bottles. Fresh-squeezed lime juice is sold in old perfume bottles. Discarded individual portion-sized butter wrappers are washed and repurposed as wrappers for homemade chocolates and candies sold on the street. In Holguin, instead of paying $1 for a new cigarette lighter, “focforeras” repair and refill old lighters for 5 – 10 cents.

Cubans bring their own plastic containers to restaurants when they want to order take-out and bring their own honey jars, beer bottles, and water jugs to shops and bars to be filled with homemade soda and beer. The beer might even be served from recycles 1.5 liter soda bottles or re-purposed plastic gasoline jugs. Disposable diapers are washed and hung in the sun to dry for re-use. The latch on the bathroom door is broken in the national park? No problem, loop an old hair band around the doorknob and a nail to keep it shut!

 A bartender in Santa Lucia, Camaguey, pouring beer from recycled containers

A bartender in Santa Lucia, Camaguey, pouring beer from recycled containers

 A bottle of homemade tomato sauce sold in an old rum bottle in Baracoa, Guantanamo

A bottle of homemade tomato sauce sold in an old rum bottle in Baracoa, Guantanamo

 Fishermen using old Barbie doll as lures in Cabo Cruz, Granma

Fishermen using old Barbie doll as lures in Cabo Cruz, Granma

Creativity grows out of necessity and the economic situation in Cuba has turned the country into a hotbed of creativity, improvisation, and ingenuity. Traveling through the country has made me so much more aware of my own consumption and wastefulness. In fact, I'm known to hyper-obsess about minimizing waste and tend to get a bit too judgey with normal people who aren't as obsessed as I am. I admit, it's weird that I will carry 15 items by hand out of a store instead of taking a plastic bag. It's also weird that I may go around a restaurant table trying to collect leftovers to give to homeless people.

I get funny looks when I approach conference organizers to request leftover platters of food so I can hand them out on the street. It's also weird that I swipe bags out of the bag recycling bins at supermarkets so that I don't have to ask for new bags. People sometimes look at me funny when I bring my own take-out containers to restaurants but several friends have recently told me they started doing the same. Every little bit helps and Cuba is a shining example of how to get by with few possessions and how to re-use, re-cycle, and re-work belongings instead of simply throwing them in the trash, as we do all to often in the United States. The Economist and Reuters even recently detailed how condoms in Cuba are put to use for everything from wine making to fishing!

 Chocolate candies are sold in old yogurt packaging that has been cleaned

Chocolate candies are sold in old yogurt packaging that has been cleaned

 "Focforeras" repair and refill old lighters instead of tossing them

"Focforeras" repair and refill old lighters instead of tossing them

 Homemade "Tupperware" a friend and I created to carry our picnic to the beach

Homemade "Tupperware" a friend and I created to carry our picnic to the beach

 With limited resources, cake boxes are not a priority. This woman carried a cake for over an hour on a crowded truck. I promise she smiled when I asked for the pic. I also held her bag so the cake didn't tip over

With limited resources, cake boxes are not a priority. This woman carried a cake for over an hour on a crowded truck. I promise she smiled when I asked for the pic. I also held her bag so the cake didn't tip over

Related Posts

See my previous blog posts to help you plan your upcoming trip to Cuba and to get a feel for the day-to-day life that few tourists encounter.

2019 Group Trips to Cuba

What to Know Before Booking an AirBnB in Cuba

How to Pack for Cuba

Is it Still Legal to Visit Cuba?

Camping in Guantanamo

Spaghetti with Mustard: Not What You Expected from Cuban Food

How to Be Vegan in Cuba