As cities grow and garbage is piling up, waste management has become one of the biggest issues that both urban and rural communities are facing today. Gabriel Vives shares how people are coming together to fight a growing, global problem.
Out of 2,500 tons of garbage produced per day, 750 tons of it end up in streets, rivers, and oceans. Of the remaining waste, only 2% is being recycled. These are the numbers of Panama City, a city with roughly 500,000 people. And they triggered me to do something about it.
My name is Gabriel Vives, and I’m a 30-year old Panamanian who has been working for over eight years at Maersk, mainly in the Commercial department in Sales and Customer Service roles. Currently, I am part of the Sealand Americas family as the Customer Service Manager for the Caribbean Sea Cluster. After office, I am the President of Fundacion Costa Recicla, a non-profit organisation, whose mission is to educate the Panamanian population on sustainability and best practices on waste management, focusing on the three R´s (reduce, reuse, recycle).
Seeing how my passion is creating an impact at my workplace and having the full support of Sealand to continue developing this project is priceless.
All my life I have been very passionate about my country and wanted to help it succeed in any way I could. I believe one of the keys of most advanced countries is for its society to take ownership for its development and growth, driven by their values and everyday actions, and I wanted to do my part.
That is when I learned about the terrible stats on waste management in Panama, and that very little was being done for it to change. To me, it was shocking that a small country like Panama had the second biggest consumption ratio per capita of the region, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Combined with poor waste management infrastructure, lack of regulations incentivising the sector, Panama was producing tons and tons of garbage and just piling it up in landfills. Someone had to speak up on this matter.
That is how Fundacion Costa Recicla started back in 2012. It started as a movement to promote recycling in Panama. We set up a small recycling point to receive clean materials from households and by 2017, it managed to receive almost 500 tons of recyclable materials that did not end up in a landfill or in our oceans, but rather was given a new life.
Education and awareness
Later, Fundación Costa Recicla evolved to an educational entity looking to spread the word of this problem. In 2019, we have held more than 100 workshops on different schools, offices and communities, revealing to everyone how big the problem is, how it is being caused partly by our consumption behaviors, and what we can do to be part of the solution.
One of the biggest projects handled by Fundación Costa Recicla is the recycling program in our Maersk Panama office started in 2017. With the support of the Community Investment Program of Sealand Americas, we started a full campaign to start recycling four main materials: Cardboard, paper, plastic and aluminum cans. Given the need to have a group within the office to push this campaign internally, the Green Team was created and led locally by Sofi Lloyd, Rafael Gonzalez and myself, with the support of several local employees passionate about the environment and it has been the key success factor of the whole project.
The results speak for themselves: we have collected over three tons of recyclable materials in two years, and a survey made in the local office showed that 95% of employees began recycling at the office and 75% started recycling at home.
These results gave me a sense of joy and pride, not only for the success of it, but most importantly to see colleagues wanting to go further, reaching out and asking how else they can contribute to this cause, which has led to several other initiatives such as clothes donations and beach cleanups. Seeing how my passion is creating an impact at my workplace and having the full support of Sealand to continue developing this project is priceless.
Global goalsIn November, I also had the privilege to participate in the UNLEASH Innovation Lab for the United Nations´ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event was held in Shenzhen, China, and gathered 1,000 talents from more than 160 different countries to put our minds together to solve our world´s biggest problems.
I will always be thankful to Maersk for giving me the opportunity to be part of such an incredible event. For Maersk to do these kinds of investments on its people show its commitment and passion for the achievement of the SDGs, involving its employees as part of the solution, both inside and outside the office. During the event, we developed a solution to address the plastic pollution in Panama, and hopefully you will hear news on it soon.