How to be an Eco-Warrior in Santiago

Saving the world is a tricky business in Santiago. Although there are plenty of people working hard to improve environmental awareness, the majority of the population appear to think going green is something you do before you throw up after a heavy night out.

Photo courtesy Claudia Fernandez
Photo courtesy Claudia Fernandez

Difficult though it may be, however, it is possible to reduce, reuse and recycle in this fair city. So whether you’re a fully-fledged eco-warrior or just looking for somewhere to recycle, here’s how:

Just say no

Photo by Joanna Rozniak
Photo by Joanna Rozniak

Supermarket bag packers clearly believe that their plastic carriers are as fragile as fairy wings and your tins of tuna and loaves of bread are as delicate as egg shells. For this reason, they carefully place just one or two items in each bag and you leave with about 50 of the darn things. According to, Chileans go through a whopping 3 million plastic bags in 2007.

Next time you’re in the supermarket, say no to their bags, and keep saying no when they insist. Take your own bags, pack them yourself and explain why you’re doing so in the comments book at customer services.

We love Revolver contributor Abi Wilkinson’s foldable Santiago-themed cloth bags.

Buy less stuff

My ex-boyfriend was a peso-pinching miser who scorned my tree-hugging ways, but in many ways, he was more eco-friendly than I was. I’d watch him mumbling to himself over prospective purchases — “Lo necesito? Pues, no” — and he’d put it back.

If you don’t really, really need it, don’t buy it. Use accessories to brighten up old clothes or buy second-hand from Bandera, borrow stuff from friends, take a mug to work, get inventive in the kitchen, join the library, share magazines with your mates, scrounge stationery from work, use old bills and letters as scrap paper and get things fixed rather than throw them away.

Then, when it’s time to leave town, share the love and give your stuff away. Someone you know is bound to want that BIP card, SIM, sleeping bag, half-bottle of Pisco or not-quite-ripe avocado.

Save energy

Don’t leave your TV or computer on standby, turn them off and unplug them. Buy a hot water bottle to keep warm in the winter. Boil only the water you need to make that cup of tea and do the planet (and the next tenant of your flat) a favour by buying energy-saving light bulbs. They’re available from most big supermarkets.


Let’s be frank. On the whole, Santiago sucks at recycling.

Vitacura is the one area that is showing the rest of the city how it’s done. Their Punto Limpio between Nueva Costanera and Américo Vespucio has recycling facilities for paper, cardboard, plastic, glass bottles, aluminium tins, clothes, toner cartridges and tetra packs.

Photo by Joanna Rozniak
Photo by Joanna Rozniak

They’ll also take batteries and other items that are damaging to the environment off your hands. Gasp in awe and wonder here.

For the rest of us ordinary mortals, here’s a full list of recycling facilities across the city.

Mobile phones can now be recycled at most metro stations and Reciclemos y Limpiemos Chile is encouraging schools and colleges to recycle paper with an impressive incentive scheme.

Finally, don’t assume that your building is recycling those wine bottles they ask you not to throw down the rubbish chute. They probably aren’t. Take them to your nearest bottle bank instead.

Those boots are made for walking

No one will love you for adding to the smog, so walk or cycle whenever you can. Cheap bikes can often be found by searching on university notice boards, or

If you fancy ringing your bell at angry car drivers, Critical Mass reclaim Santiago’s streets for cyclists every first Tuesday of the month. Meanwhile, the lovely people at Ciclorecrevoia close off parts of the city to cars every Sunday morning so that you can pedal, skate or walk in peace.

And if you’re heading out of town, take the bus rather than fly. It may take longer, but buses are a great way to see the country and reduce your carbon footprint.

Buy Organic and in season

Photo by Joanna Rozniak
Photo by Joanna Rozniak

Chile’s unusual geography means that fruit and vegetables grow in abundance here. However, if you’re tempted to buy mangoes or sweet corn in the middle of winter, make sure they haven’t been flown halfway round the world first. Prices are your guide. If they’re piling the strawberries high and selling them cheap at La Vega, chances are they’re in season.

Better yet, if you can afford it, buy organic. Biocaja bring seasonal organic veg boxes to your door for CP$9,900 per week (+ CP$2,500 delivery). To order, email

Clean green

Bleach and other household chemicals can be harmful to marine life. Sadly we’ve not found anywhere in Santiago that sells environmentally-friendly cleaning products, but, for ideas on making your own, take a look at ecologistas en accion (Spanish) or grist (English).

Have eco-friendly kids

Disposable nappies may be handy and save on mess but they take up huge amounts of landfill space. Chilean-designed eco nappies are available at, and there’s a natty line in organic cotton baby clothes at

Recycle creatively

Just because the government aren’t recycling your stuff, it doesn’t mean you can’t. Arty disco dancers can learn how to make their very own glitterballs from old CDs here,

Eco bricks, Photo courtesy Claudia Fernandez
Eco bricks, Photo courtesy Claudia Fernandez

and fashionistas can buy fab boots made from plastic supermarket bags here. The Spanish designer who makes them was inspired by the mountains of wasted plastic in — yes, you guessed it — Santiago.

Chilean artists are pretty inventive too. See who’s using what at arte chileno independiente. One artistic soul currently needs your used candles for a sculpture.

The award for the most creative use of plastic bags goes to whoever came up with the idea of building houses with them. In various parts of South America, buildings are being constructed with ‘eco bricks’ using empty plastic bottles stuffed with tightly compressed carrier bags.

Get on your soap box

Patagonia in Southern Chile is one of the most spectacular wildernesses on earth. It’s home to deep glacial lakes, pristine rivers and now a massive environmental campaign, Patagonia Sin Represas. Large-scale dam projects are planned for the area, which campaigners say would threaten eco-systems, rural farms and rivers, not to mention the tourism industry. Thousands of high-voltage towers would also be needed to bring the power to Santiago and mining projects in the north, potentially blotting 2415km of landscape. To find out more about a controversial mining project at Pasca Lama, read what our friends at Matador have to say.

And for regular info on all things green and Chilean, see Greenpeace Chile or Terram.

So, now that you know where to recycle those empty bottles of Chilean red, start making friends with the environment. She needs all the help she can get.

Note: If you know of a great environmental project we haven’t mentioned or have spotted a handy place to dispose of batteries, please feel free to add it to the comments section below.

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