Just a few months ago, Costa Rica landed in the center stage of environmentalism after running on 100 percent renewable energy for the first 75 days of 2015. With an already strong image in the environmentalist movement,this achievement only came to reinforce the country’s relevance in the green arena. Nonetheless, critique emerged around the validity of this relevance, due to the pollution and recycling dilemma that the nation currently faces.
Due to poor waste management from the State, it is not uncommon to find trash piling up on the streets of the Central Valley, region which holds the most populous cities in the country, as well as its capital, San José. In an effort to solve this issue, as well as establishing a national recycling system, the government signed the Integral Waste Management Law in 2010, which intended to keep public spaces and watersheds free of litter, as well as providing a selective waste collection service.
For this reason, since 2010, the system has required each municipality in the country to implement the most suitable waste management strategy in order to encourage their citizens to separate their trash into paper, glass, aluminium/glass, and compost, as well as urging these municipalities to eliminate untreated waste trash dumps and to instead invest in waste treatment centers and collection centers for recyclable waste. Taking into consideration that many municipalities do not have the monetary power needed to invest in such centers, these requirements were also thought as a path for attracting new private investors, and creating new businesses and jobs.
With a 53 percent of its 107 affiliated entities belonging to the private capital by 2013, and just a 3 percent related to municipal programs, the program has had a moderate success, though not the one expected. According to the Recycling Network of Costa Rica REDCICLA, the waste processed by its affiliated entities per year are the equivalent of approximately a 8.93 percent of the totality of waste generated in the entire country per year, which is still far from the cypher desired.
However, with a low level of financial support from the State, the industry is mainly dependent on the private sector, a sector that lacks the capital to implement a proper waste collection system, and is dependent on the support and willingness of locals to bring their own recyclable waste to the centers. Therefore, recycling has turned into an activity mostly practiced by individuals and families in the upper-middle class and upper class, taking into consideration that low-income families cannot afford to be traveling constantly to recycling centers, especially when they don’t have a car to help them transport the waste, and in case they do, they don’t have the money -and time- to be wasting gas on doing so.
So, how is this to be solved? In order to better the results of the program it is vital to demand stronger support from the government, as well as encouraging private investors in the industry to open new and bigger centers not only in wealthy urban communities, but also in marginalized regions and rural communities. Additionally, it remains basic to continue providing the public with environmental education and recycling campaigns. A cultural shift towards environmental protection will create personal initiatives for people to protect the environment for their own benefit and that of others. This goes to show that even though a country known for being environmentally friendly and sustainable can still do more to help the environment and we can too!
Maurita Obermiller and Jessica Ordóñez, Interns