PUERTO JIMÉNEZ – Just a few kilometers from this Southern Zone town’s colorful new recycling center is an unsightly reminder of its importance – the town dump, where old mattresses, broken surfboards and rusting washing machines fester alongside plastic bottles, paper and mountains of other debris.
Trash woes are nothing new here. Frustrated residents say the dump, which backs up against a mangrove area, has long been an environmental disaster incongruent with the OsaPeninsula’s mantra of preserving its jungle and beaches that draw tourists from around the world.
The trash crisis – fueled by Coke distributor Coca-Cola Femsa S.A. switching from reusable glass bottles to plastic ones last year – led to the birth of the recycling center inaugurated by the town in early December. The Women of the Osa (WOO), a group of peninsula residents dedicated to conservation, education and ecological awareness, worked for more than two years to raise the $7,000 needed to build the holding center, explained Kim Spiers, the group’s treasurer and co-owner of Bosque del Cabo lodge.
The organization sold T-shirts, held a golf tournament and several bake sales and accepted donations. Co-owner of Bosque del Cabo and Kim Spiers’ husband Phil oversaw the design and construction of the center, which is on the grounds of the town’s high school.
Anyone in the community can deposit glass, plastic and aluminum at the center, a wooden structure with a few steps leading up to large bins. Vicesa, a glass company from Cartago, east of San José, donated several colorful glass collection bins shaped like bottles.
A mural with fish, dolphins and other marine life swimming in a bright blue ocean wraps around the structure’s exterior, and there is storage space behind the bins.
The area high school’s environmental group, Rescue the Environment Now (RANA), plans to run the center and go house to house to collect recyclable materials, said teacher Ruth Sandoval, who works with the group.
“We live in this area rich in biodiversity and we don’t want to lose it. It’s been a difficult battle to convince people of the importance of recycling, but we hope we can do it,” she said.
Vicesa and beverage distributor Florida Ice and Farm have committed to picking up recyclable materials and transporting them to the Central Valley for processing, according to Spiers.
Plastic on the Peninsula
The town’s need for a recycling center became more urgent last year after Coca-Cola Femsa announced it would no longer ship Coke to the OsaPeninsula in glass bottles and was instead switching to plastic bottles.
The company’s decision – which it attributed to the high cost of getting heavy glass bottles over the area’s notoriously bad roads – led a group of hotels in the area to boycott Coke (TT, Sept. 9, 2005). They called off the boycott when Coca-Cola Femsa agreed to provide WOO building materials for the recycling center, Spiers said.
The group later sent Coca-Cola Femsa a list of materials, such as cement, they needed to build the center. However, the company didn’t come through.
“They didn’t give us anything, not a cent and no building materials,” Spiers said. “We raised the money ourselves.”
Harry Vargas, Coca-Cola Femsa recycling coordinator, said the company never promised to donate construction materials. What it did promise was to provide materials such as paint, gloves and plastic bags for community trash pick-ups and brochures for environmental education programs. It also promised to pick up plastic from the center once or twice a week after it was constructed, he said.
“As soon as they call us and let us know, we will come and help with the collection, but we never said we were going to help them with materials,”Vargas said. “If we give a recycling center to this community, we’d have to give one to communities all over the country.”
Meanwhile, Katie Hennessy,WOO chairwoman and food and beverage director at Lapa Rios lodge, said the group shouldn’t have to contact Coke to hold the company to promises it made long ago.
“We’d love it if they want to come and get the materials, but we’re not worried about calling them up because they’ve never done anything we’ve asked them for,” Hennessy said. “Our priority now is on educating the community and helping them learn about recycling.”
She said hotels and environmental groups around the country have told her group they have experienced similar problems with Coke not following through on promises to help the environment.
A statement prepared by WOO lists 24 hotels and organizations who are “disappointed with Coca-Cola and their lack of following through and keeping their promises to Costa Ricans as concerns the environment and waste management” including the Recycling Coalition in Escazú, west of San José; the Sustainable Development Association in the northwestern Guanacaste province and Harmony Hotel in the northwestern Guanacaste beach of Nosara.
Coke is “directly responsible for demoralizing and de-motivating many courageous recycling efforts being made all over by schools and communities,” the statement reads.
Vargas told The Tico Times Coca-Cola Femsa picks up plastic in 80% of the country, including the Southern Zone, where it collects seven tons of plastic each month from points in the towns of Golfito, Ciudad Neily, Río Claro and Puerto Jiménez. He said he was unsure where the Puerto Jiménez collection point was located.
At the center’s inauguration ceremony Dec. 10, Puerto Jiménez community members celebrated what they called a novelty for the town and an alternative to the buzzard-strewn dump.
As far as Coke’s promises, Sandoval agreed with Hennessy that “they talk and they talk, but they never help.”