30 Million Plastic Bags Collected by School Kids to Save a Species

cotton-top tamarin photo

Photo via wikipedia CC

They're like little troll dolls with tails. These super cute and super tiny animals are Cotton-Top Tamarins, found only in Columbia, and they're about to disappear from the wild. But clever strategies for saving the forest in which they live have been devised by Proyecto Tití, from collecting plastic bags polluting the forest and turning them into marketable products to finding new sources of cooking fuel that spares trees.Proyecto Tití is part of the Wildlife Conservation Network, and Executive Director Rosamira Guillén was present at the WCN Expo this past weekend.

A core realization that runs through every project connected with WCN is that poverty stunts conservation efforts. If we really want to be successful at conservation, we have to be successful at ensuring the communities in the areas we want to restore and preserve have enough food, water, shelter, and fuel to survive. Proyecto Tití recognizes this as well and when trying to address the deforestation that impacts the endangered cotton-top tamarin, the group first addresses poverty.

"To make conservation economically feasible for many local communities, we have developed some innovative strategies to empower local people to get involved and benefit from conservation activities," the group notes. That's where plastic bags come into play.

Collecting discarded plastic bags -- usually the bane of conservationists -- is a strategy for accomplishing the group's twin goals. The bags are woven into purses, or eco-mochilas, by local women and made available for purchase. The extra source of income not only cleans up the environment but provides much needed income for local people. It also brings attention to the issue of conserving the cotton-top tamarin.

cotton-top tamarin photo

Photo via wikipedia CC

According to Guillén, school kids in the area alone have collected over 30 million plastic bags. These bags can also be formed into fence posts, which alleviates the need for chopping down trees as building materials.

Also to save trees cut as fuel for cooking, the group promotes the use of better-designed bindes, or small cooking platforms that increase the heat of the wood used for cooking while producing less smoke. Traditionally, these bindes are actually termite mounds -- which are labor intensive to find, produce smoke which has been connected to health problems among women, and only last about a month when used for cooking. But the group has created a product modeled after traditional bindes that are small and portable, and can be fueled with corn husks, coconut shells and other refuse. In all, they use about one-third the fuel.

By first addressing the needs of the community, Proyecto Tití is able to address the needs of the cotton-top tamarin and its habitat. While there is still a lot of work to be done to conserve the forest where these amazing creatures live, the foundations for conservation are formed.

Proyecto Titi Video- English Subtitles from Federico Pardo Caicedo on Vimeo.

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