Communities: Recycling in Costa Rica
1. Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community, and if so,is it easy for people to access?
Yes! In Heredia, my host mom was very adamant about recycling. Once a month there is a volunteer group comes around the neighborhood to collect the recycling. I asked my mama Tica about the group and she told me that it was not run by the government, but by volunteers who value recycling and collect in all of the major cities in Costa Rica.
2. What is the public sentiment about the state of the environment, and do young people think they play a role in protecting the environment? If so, how?
Costa Rica puts a huge emphasis on conservation. They don’t have air conditioning in buildings, most families don’t have dryers for their clothes, all lights are turned off when leaving a room and they unplug everything when not using it. These are just a few ways that Costa Ricans preserve electricity.
At the university that I attended, I saw students consistently throwing away their trash in the correct bins. During lunch time, students never left their trash at their tables. Littering was actually very uncommon except in the downtown area of cities like San Jose. They were pretty dirty, but in the suburbs where I lived, people tended to take care of their own trash. I noticed also that there were a lot of trash cans. They were on the sidewalks of the streets. I think this helps account for the small amount of trash in the streets.
3. What innovative solutions do you observe, or hear people talking about?
There were many times when I needed a packed lunch. My host mom always made me a sandwich and asked that I bring back the ziplock bag. She would rinse it out and reuse it. She said that you have to be careful with plastic.
Just about everywhere that you go, you will see three trash cans in a line. One is for compost waste, thing that cannot be recycled. One is for plastic and the other is for aluminum. The government has started to put these three, and sometimes four for glass bottles, cans all around the country in order to make it easier for people to recycle.
I think this would be great to implement in the United States. I know that they teach us the importance of the Green Movement’s slogan “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse,” but the government hasn’t taken any extra steps like Costa Rica has with these extra cans for recycling. At my university, we have these three cans on campus. However, they are not in every building or everywhere on campus. We do have quite a few though and I think that that is great. One of ours is for paper, which makes more sense being on a college campus. We use a lot of paper!
4. Have there been changes to environmental laws lately, or have new systems of solid waste management been introduced in the past five years?
The Costa Rican government does have a national waste policy, but it does not mention specific regulations on waste management. This is why the need for a tangible plan is necessary as well as well-trained workers.
In Costa Rica, they have the Ministry of Health which takes care of a variety of things, including waste management. They are currently researching the best and most efficient ways to recycle and dispose of waste. This is to discover new technical knowledge to process their trash and recyclables in the best way possible. This same part of the government is also working to get more funding for waste management to try to dispose of Costa Ricans’ trash in the most environmentally friendly way. By involving the people, they plan to educate people on how to recycle correctly.
5. Are there any youth groups, community organizations, NGO or INGOs actively working to address solid waste management issues in your community? Who are they and what are they doing. What can we learn from them? If possible, take a field trip and check out their work!
I searched online and asked my host mom for information, but I could not any find specific groups that are working to better how Costa Rica manages their waste. This could be why the government wants to implement the plan that I mentioned in the previous question. Many people in Costa Rica do recycle from what I saw in my neighborhood, school and town.
The one thing that I do know about is the volunteer company that comes around my neighborhood to pick up recycling once per month. This company has a large truck like a garbage truck, but the workers are all volunteers. I searched online to find more information on this, but I could not find anything in English or in Spanish.
From my travels, I have seen that there are in fact many trash cans on public streets. Although they are not usually the four bins for recycling, they are still helpful to the collection of trash. My host mom says that if there were more trash cans in San Jose that it wouldn’t be as dirty. There are trash cans in San Jose, but there are not enough. The city is just too big. It is easy to see that the trash cans were placed in areas that were more prominent in the past and now the city has blown up and has not been fitted with more trash cans.
My mama Tica recycled everything that she could. She would reuse the plastic bags like I mentioned, reuse plastic silverware as well as collect plastics and cardboard to be picked up once per month. There are not a lot of items that come in cans except Cokes so she did not need to recycle aluminum, but our neighbor would recycle a lot of Coke cans.
In Costa Rica, there are supermercados (supermarkets), mercados (markets), and pulperia, (small gas stations that also have fresh breads). The supermercados are similar to supermarkets and big retail stores in the U.S. They give plastic bags just like at Walmart. This is due to the fact that Walmart owns just about every supermarket in Costa Rica! Markets are more like open air flee markets in the United States. These markets usually don’t give you any kind of bag. The pulperias won’t give you a bag either. You are expected to just load it in your own bag. I did notice that my host mom had tote bags that she would carry with her for this purpose.
Grocery items are not heavily packaged in plastic. In fact, eggs don’t even come in the styrofoam containers. They are set out in crates of eighteen and you pick out how many you want and you pay per egg. People usually wrap them in their own towels that they bring with them to the grocery store.
The tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink (Gracias a Dios!). My host mom, however, had a filter on her sink in the kitchen for drinking water so my water was extra clean. When you go to the beaches though, you have to buy bottled water. The water in beach towns is not safe to drink. I drank tap water at a restaurant in a beach town once without realizing the free glass of water would be tap water, but luckily, nothing happened. Later though, when we went to a different beach, some friends drank the water and were extremely sick. It is best not to risk it, even the locals will not be seen drinking tap water in beach towns unless they live in the beach town.
What community need did I learn about?
I learned about recycling and how Costa Rica manages its compostable trash. This was an interesting topic to me because in my literature class, we read a book called Unica Mirando Al Mar. The title means Unica (a woman’s name) looking at the ocean. However, “the ocean” is a metaphor for the city dump, a place where trash is relocated after it leaves your doorstep. It addresses the problems of poverty that were prominent in the last 25 years in Costa Rica. People would lose their jobs and have no other choice, but to move to the dump and live there. They would make little shacks out of what they could find. It was a very sad book, but very interesting. At the end of the book, the people living in the dump have to leave because the government is going to start doing something with the trash. This is when they started to focus on how they managed their waste. Costa Rica is very concerned about the environment and this book took place at the beginning of when Costa Rica started working on managing its waste.
Why does the community have this need?
Like any other community, people generate a lot of waste. This is why the idea of reusing things is so prevalent and important. Recycling helps to decrease the amount of waste, which otherwise ends up in a landfill. Since landfills are very hard to manage and often are not designed properly, we want to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. (Most landfills create ground water contamination, which affects entire ecosystems both on land and in the world’s oceans.) Otherwise, even though we may not see the waste we are creating, we are still polluting the environment.
Is this need being met? How?
Through volunteer organizations, Heredia has a recycling pick up and other cities probably do as well. The city also has garbage trucks that collect the trash twice per week.