Meet Yuyú, a private business owner who’s built an eco-friendly enterprise making small batches of paper from recycled material.

Yunairy “Yuyú” Estrada Carpio crafts 60 sheets of paper by hand every day. Her product is comparable to a sheet of A3 printer paper – but the similarities end there. Because Yuyú’s process relies solely on friends, family, and acquaintances to bring her old material in the form of newspapers, telephone books, and cards. From there, she begins the painstaking process of fermenting, pulping, and framing the recycled material, often using only rainwater in each step.

We’ll meet Yuyú at her workshop in Old Havana, learn about the process, and get insight into the challenges, aspirations, and accomplishments of a small business owner in Cuba.

Background on Ciclo EcoPapel

Yuyú’s career began with paper, as an accountant. But after the birth of her daughter Alejandra, Yuyú sought something closer to home. And in the course of motherhood, she learned to make party decor for birthdays and other celebrations – and turned it into a business. With lots of leftover paper on hand, Yuyú fell in love with the idea of turning it into something new. The early years were tough, and her first products were too thick, too thin, or full of holes. But she honed her craft, gained clients, and now employs family members in the enterprise.

Ciclo EcoPapel’s purpose is in its name: to act as a cycle, and close the loop, so used paper doesn’t end up in the trash. And her clients are integral to the process. They come to Yuyú with an idea, be it bags, notepads, cards, folders, or something else. They supply the paper needed – old documents, newspapers, or cardboard – and EcoPapel creates the product. The majority of her customers are embassies and organizations, but she’s hoping to expand the business, lower her prices, and move into new products, including the use of plastic.

In a Spanish-language interview with Cubahora, Yuyú said, “[EcoPapel] shows that it’s possible to make a private business in Cuba using...a recycling-based approach. You can do it and make a living.”

Recycling in Cuba

In America, “reduce, reuse, recycle” revolves heavily around the last part of that phrase – recycling. But in Cuba, reducing and reusing is a matter of necessity under the embargo. And paper is just the beginning. Plastic bottles are highest in demand for their use as water storage or as homemade Tupperware. And Cubans often refill disposable lighters or make cups from clean, sawed-off beer bottles.

But the best example of recycling rolls down the Malécon every day. Because keeping those classic American cars running for decades can require creative thinking. And Cuban mechanics are renowned for their scrappiness. You’ll get the chance to meet mechanics and eco-entrepreneurs like Yuyú when you join insightCuba on an expert-led tour of the island.

This experience is available on our Legendary Cuba Tour or can be integrated into a custom-made itinerary