A group of elders, men and women, sit on La-Z-boys and plush living room furniture ripping pages out of discarded books.
They are residents of the Albernia Home for Seniors in San Isidro de Heredia, north of San José, and they are prepping books to be sold for recycling.
It’s a daily afternoon activity, and the vibe is a relaxed pace peppered with chat and an overall contentedness – which speaks volumes about the program and the staff of the nonprofit senior home, since the residents are here because they have medical and psychiatric problems and were poverty-stricken and homeless.
Elizabeth Ramírez, 73, sits in her wheelchair outside, around the corner from the group working on recycling. Her right hand lays limp on her lap, damaged from a stroke and a tumor removed from her brain. With her left hand she is drawing a chicken family, a rooster, a hen, and some little chicks.
When she arrived at the Albernia Home she was withdrawn, incapacitated, and couldn’t communicate. Now she speaks with pride about her advances through 14 years of rehabilitation, and shows off her embroidery work – with only her left hand she embroiders napkins and tablecloths with animals and fruit with smiling happy faces.
Ramírez’s new orthopedic shoes came as a result of the work her fellow seniors did to prepare paper to sell for recycling.
The recycling program was started as an occupational initiative six years ago, and Albernia occupational therapist Giselle Oviedo said the seniors enjoy the work. They generally participate a couple hours after lunch every day. But when Ramírez needed new shoes, they rallied together, put in extra hours, and earned enough money to buy them for her.
“When Elizabeth needed new shoes, we didn’t have any money for that. The residents worked together to get some recycling ready to sell, we sold it, and we bought her the new shoes. They were all so pleased,”Oviedo said.
The Albernia Home, founded in 1983, accommodates seniors in need of long-term care referred to them by the National Consultants for the Protection of Senior Citizens, the BlancoCervantesHospital, and the NationalPsychiatric Hospital, among other social institutions.
“The problem is for them to accept that they are here,” Oviedo said.“My job is to help them feel at home here, to make it their home, and show them that we’re their new family.”
The recycling program is one of the activities that Oviedo does with the seniors to enrich their lives at the Albernia Home. It gives them an activity that they can do together, brings in money, and helps the environment.
Donated recyclable materials come from residents and businesses. Some people drop off the materials, and Carlos Sanchez, driver for the home, heads across San José weekly to pick up materials from private homes, the telecom company Nokia, the National Institute for Women, the German Chamber, and the Sugarcane Producers’ Association, among others.
At Albernia, staff divides the materials. Glass, plastic, newspaper and aluminum beverage cans are separated and packaged for transport; miscellaneous paper is brought inside to the living area for the seniors to separate. In the afternoons they remove the binding from books and separate out colored paper.
With 19 residents (11 women and eight men) ages 65 to 93, and approximately 20 staff members, including a doctor, nurse, physical therapist and nutritionist, the home has an ambiance that is a mixture of clinical and homey. The clinical part comes from the seniors lounging about in their hospital-style beds while the able-bodied focus on the recycling task at hand, the wheelchair-wide doorways, and rooms with multiple hospital-style beds neatly made, lined in a row, identical except for a small presence of personality, for example a teddy bear set on one resident’s pillow.
The homey part comes from photos of the residents on the wall framed by handmade construction paper frames, the floral-pattern love seats and chairs, the altar area with a framed prayer and a painting of Jesus, a vase of flowers, and the pleasant hum of conversation.
The home relies on funding from National Protection for Seniors Council (CONAPAM), the Social Protection Council, and cash and product donations for its daily operations. The recycling program provides funding for day trips, medication, orthopedic shoes, and an emergency fund, since it brings in only a trickle of colones – between ¢6 and ¢70 ($0.01-0.14) per kilogram: cardboard sells for ¢6 per kilo, white paper ¢40, colored paper ¢10, newspaper ¢23, glass ¢14, and plastic bottles sell for ¢70 per kilo.
Gema Campos, a retired English teacher and mother of two teenagers who lives in Heredia, sets aside her recyclables for the Albernia Home.
“Two years ago we started separating our garbage, taking out the recyclable materials. My friend told me about the Albernia seniors, and that they collect those materials,” she said.
Campos said she is motivated for two reasons: “First to help them – it gives them a little bit of money to help the home. And second, recycling helps the environment. I am hanging my outlook on garbage and the environment.”
Diana Guerra is the National Marketing Coordinator at the Nokia office in San José, and coordinates the recycling pickup for the company.
“When I went to meet the seniors, I realized they are helping themselves provide for their basic needs,” Guerra said. “We donate the recyclable materials to them so that we don’t create more garbage in this country that is full of garbage.We’ve been doing it for about three years.”
Jhonny Chinchilla, an independent buyer, purchases approximately 20,000 kilograms of cardboard per year from the Albernia Home, bringing in ¢120,000 ($240). He sells it to Empaques Santa Ana, a company that manufactures new cardboard out of it.
A glass company called Vidriera Centroamericana buys approximately 2,000 kilograms of glass per month directly from the Albernia Home, bringing in approximately ¢336,000 ($672) annually. The glass is made into new bottles, and 75% are exported across Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States.
Florida Bebidas, the country’s main brewery and a leading beverage producer, buys aluminum beverage cans and PET or HDPE plastic bottles – the type of plastic they use for their own beverage production. Their recycling program was formed in response to the impact of their own production. The bottles are sold to the United States or China, depending on price and demand, and made into polyester fiber for the textile industry.
At present, the United States is buying for a better price because, according to Gerardo Miranda with Florida Bebidas, U.S. officials put a limit on the textiles they will purchase from China, and are kicking up their own textile production.
Newspaper goes to the construction equipment firm Amanco’s Plycem Construsistemas division, which produces sheets of fiber cement, and uses organic fibers in the mix.
“We have two intentions; one is to help the institution. The other is to minimize garbage and pollution,” said Juan Carlos Soto, who oversees the purchase of recyclable newspaper for Plycem.
How to Contribute
The Albernia Home for Seniors will pick up the following recyclable materials from private homes, community associations, businesses and other groups across the Central Valley at no charge. For more information or to schedule a pickup, call 268-8591.
Plastic bottles and containers: PET and HDPE plastic is especially marketable (Tampico, Tropical and Cristal juice and water bottles are PET and HDPE), but all beverage bottles can be recycled. Albernia also accepts cleaning product bottles and yogurt containers. They cannot recycle shampoo bottles, take-out containers, nor disposable plastic plates, glasses, cutlery.
Glass: bottles, glassware.
Aluminum cans: pop, beer (no food tins such as tuna and bean cans, because they are mixed metals, and so far there is no market for them here).
Paper: any kind, for example notebooks, books, magazines, phone directories, newspapers.