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Let’s be part of the solution, not the pollution

Church in Honduras shows the difference a UN global plastics treaty could make as leaders meet to continue negotiations.

Written by Melissa Barnston, Senior Media Officer, Tearfund | 23 Apr 2024

Pastor Wilfredo, dressed in a green T-shirt, stands in front of the three bins provided for waste segregation in the community.

Tearfund has worked alongside Pastor Wilfredo Vásquez, who leads the Church of God in El Rincón, Honduras, to help the community deal with waste safely by providing segregation bins and making sure the garbage truck picks up any that is left over. Credit: None Guevara/Tearfund

Yosely Andino, a grandmother living in Honduras, had only ever burnt or dumped her family’s household waste until their village, El Rincón, started to benefit from a garbage truck coming through the community collecting waste.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that 40 million people lacked access to waste collection across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018.

Yosely, 48, began to see the health impacts of the burning of waste when her granddaughter, Valery, started to need a nebuliser to help her breathe.

The impacts of burning waste

‘One of my granddaughters suffered chest pain due to smoke pollution. The air was contaminated, but now the way we do it [dispose of waste] is no longer by burning, and she has improved in that she no longer gets sick,’ says Yosely.

Two billion people, one in four, worldwide don’t have access to safe waste collection and disposal. This devastating reality means that, globally, as many as one person every 30 seconds is dying from illnesses and diseases caused by living near dumped and burnt waste – diseases such as heart disease, cancer and respiratory infections.

In El Rincón, the local church has taken on the responsibility and is leading the way with re-educating the community in relation to waste disposal. Tearfund is working alongside Pastor Wilfredo Vásquez, who leads the Church of God, and the project has helped to change the lives of around 4,000 people.

A banner hangs outside the church saying ‘Lets be part of the solution, not the pollution’.

‘Two billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe waste collection and disposal. As many as one person every 30 seconds is dying from illnesses and diseases caused by living near dumped and burnt waste.’

‘We had a serious problem with trash, there was waste everywhere in our community – trash on the football fields, trash around the school and children's playgrounds,’ Pastor Vásquez says.

‘A lot of the rubbish was being burnt; items included plastics, clothes and nappies. Before, there was never any garbage collection, therefore our community was very dirty. As a church, we have worked on cleaning up the community and have run awareness campaigns about the use of plastics and the burning of garbage in the community.

‘It’s vital that a strong UN plastics treaty is agreed so it can help communities like ours where there was previously no waste collection.’

Valery sits still while her grandmother helps her use the nebuliser which assists her breathing.

Valery, aged eight, was suffering from breathing problems due to the toxic fumes being emitted by the burning of waste in her community, it was so severe she needed a nebuliser. This has changed since people stopped burning as much rubbish. Credit: None Guevara/Tearfund

Alongside Tearfund, Wilfredo has also worked with community leaders and the local government to help organise the garbage truck going through the town once a week collecting waste.

‘This is the first time in 90 years that El Rincón is receiving any kind of waste collection,’ Pastor Wilfredo added. A youth group from the church also collects and recycles plastic, while the other recyclable waste is collected at segregation points across the community.

UN plastics treaty negotiations

Approximately 3,600 miles north of El Rincón, government leaders from around the world will gather this week for the fourth stage of the UN plastics treaty negotiations.

Seen as the most important international environmental agreement since the Paris Climate Agreement, the talks, now in the fourth stage of five, could lead to the first legally-binding global treaty on plastic pollution and improve the lives of billions of people around the world. If negotiations are successful, the treaty could come into force in 2025.

‘It’s vital that a strong UN plastics treaty is agreed so it can help communities like ours where there was previously no waste collection.’
Pastor Vásquez, Honduras

‘While the waste collection and bins being installed in El Rincón will make a big difference to this community, there are hundreds of thousands more communities like this. We need far more action from governments and companies, which is why an ambitious treaty is essential,’ says Miriam Moreno, Tearfund's Environmental and Economic Sustainability regional manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, who works alongside the church and is attending the UN talks.

‘The treaty is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring about an end to the worldwide problem of plastic pollution. This means driving down plastic production and making sure the rest is safely collected and recycled. The rubbish problem has been solved in El Rincón for now, that’s what a legally binding plastics treaty could do.’

What we need from INC4

Tearfund will be at the UN talks (also called INC4) in Ottawa, Canada from 23 to 29 April 2024, calling on governments to push for a treaty that fully addresses the impacts of waste on people living in poverty by ensuring four things are mandatory in the final agreement:

  • Reduction: legally binding targets to reduce plastic production and scale up reuse solutions
  • Recycling: universal access to waste collection and recycling
  • Respect: support for waste pickers, including a just transition
  • Response: mechanisms to ensure businesses and governments take action

For more information on Tearfund’s campaign on the UN plastics treaty visit

Written by

Written by  Melissa Barnston, Senior Media Officer, Tearfund

Senior Media Officer, Tearfund

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