Costa Rica Recycles, but Still Has Ways to Go
Sergio González likes the sugar for his morning coffee served out of a refurbished Pringles can. He prints out his business cards on the backs of unused paper.
González is a serious and creative man when it comes to recycling. In his office, three shelves are littered with examples of recyclables: empty bottles of Smirnoff vodka, computer parts, Hello Kitty plastic toys. There’s a model airplane made out of soda cans.
“I’m a green guy,” said González, president of the nonprofit National Productivity Center Foundation (Ceprona) and its recycling arm, Redcicla.
Since Redcicla’s inception in 2005 – thanks to a donation from the Japanese Embassy – González has worked to develop a cohesive recycling network in Costa Rica. In 2002, Ceprona started compiling a database of recycling programs throughout Costa Rica, ranging from nonprofit groups to community organizations to commercial businesses such as Coca-Cola and Kimberly-Clark.
The list has been overhauled and updated four times since it started and is receiving its fifth update now. González expects the number of businesses to increase from 130 to about 180. He just wishes more people knew about how to recycle in Costa Rica. Ceprona is always receiving calls from people asking where they can drop off a stack of newspapers or a bag full of plastic bottles. González wants those who live here to know that, while still a fledgling process in the country, recycling is expanding throughout Costa Rica.
The western San José suburb of Escazú might have one of the few standout recycling programs in the country. González can think of only four locations in the Central Valley attempting curbside pickup – Escazú, Curridabat, San Rafael de Heredia and Desamparados – and Escazú seems to have one of the most collaborative of the programs.
“The work is everyone’s,” said Marlen Chacón of the recycling organization Fundación Escazú Recicla.
Several women, including Chacón, jump-started Escazú’s recycling plan almost a decade ago. Once the municipality noticed the benefits, the group became involved by loaning garbage trucks and other types of funding. Escazú went from collecting 80 kilograms of recyclables a day to collecting 4,000, Chacón said. However, it’s only about a fifth of the suburb’s actual recyclable materials, she added; the rest is discarded in the trash.
Successful recycling programs also exist outside the Central Valley. The Talamanca canton in Limón province has a curbside pickup program that covers a large part of the southern Caribbean coast. The Recycling Association of the Caribbean, or ReciCaribe, in conjunction with the Talamanca and Caribbean Biological Corridor Association, collects from Cahuita to Manzanillo, and even from remote indigenous communities.
The standard glass, aluminum, plastics and paper are accepted as well as car batteries and cooking oil.
In Tamarindo on the northern Pacific coast, Diana Zimmerman watched her area’s recycling services expand from a once-a month event to something citizens can do every day. Recycling in Tamarindo began in 2008 on the beach, where the community would bring all their recyclables to the shoreline to be collected by Tamarindo Recycles.
After the event grew popular, the local municipality began working with Tamarindo Recycles, and now the town is home to dozens of recycling collection points. They also do pickups for area businesses, which do their own sorting but often have too much material to drop off at a collection site. These places include surf camps, restaurants, bars and condominium communities. Zimmerman said the next step is for Tamarindo to have a collection center.
As is the case with the southern Caribbean coast and Tamarindo, it appears that areas with the most recycling success are places with high populations of foreigners – locations where the inhabitants are familiar with the idea of recycling, unlike many native Costa Ricans.
“To the people who are living in these communities of foreigners, it’s normal,” Zimmerman said. “People were appalled by the fact that there wasn’t any recycling. Everyone is ready to jump on board. … There are a lot of things people haggle over but recycling is not one of them.”
Yet many Costa Ricans remain new to and perhaps overwhelmed by recycling. Zimmerman said one unfortunate problem has been people dumping unfinished cans of beer or soda in bins that contain recyclables that must be kept dry. Or the bins are simply used as a place to dispose of any type of garbage.
González said Costa Ricans being uninformed about recycling is one of Ceprona’s major obstacles. He stated the government has not been doing enough to help promote recycling in the country. In May, the government passed the Waste Management Law, which, under the supervision of the Health Ministry, will require that municipalities “guarantee selective waste collection services” and that they keep public spaces and waterways trash-free. The ministry will also help enforce a series of rules and sanctions for improper disposal of waste (TT, June 25, July 23).
González said Ceprona helped draft the bill, though only 40 percent of its recommendations were adopted, and the word “recycling” was almost wiped out from the legislation. Nevertheless, the bill must be seen as a step forward in a country where streets and rivers function as garbage disposals.
González hosts recycling and waste management symposiums in Costa Rica, and attends as many as he can. The ignorance pervades almost everywhere, he said. Recently, he heard a professor – an academic, González said – speak on recycling in Costa Rica. She referred to the country as “in diapers.” While González acknowledged Costa Rica needs a lot of help to improve the country’s recycling system, he could not believe someone called recycling in Costa Rica an industry that had just been born. González spoke next. He corrected the speaker. Then, once more González spoke to a crowd, trying to do a little more to clean up all the ignorance about recycling in Costa Rica.
“We have a long way to go, to learn.” González said. “But we’re not starting from zero. That’s stupid.”
How to Recycle in Costa Rica
Recycling programs in Costa Rica are scattershot throughout the country, and finding out if there’s one in your area can be a challenge. However, the nonprofit Redcicla, a branch of Ceprona, has put together a database of community centers, recycling companies and waste processors that can be used as collection sites for recyclables and reusable waste. The directory currently has 137 entries from around the country. The list is being updated, and approximately 50 new recycling points will be added.
Community collection centers, 42 in total, that receive recyclables (sorted by region):
Recycling companies, 57 total, that buy recyclable material for resale (sorted by material): http://redcicla.org/basededatos/empresas.html
Processing companies, 38 total, that buy recyclable material for processing (sorted by material):http://redcicla.org/basededatos/industrias.html
To contact Tamarindo Recycles (not listed in the Redcicla database), call Diana Zimmerman at 8843-7233 or e-mail email@example.com.
Also not yet listed is the recently opened recyclables collection center, funded by the Japanese Embassy, in the southern San José suburb of Hatillo. For information, contact the HatilloMunicipality at 2547-6000 or the Japanese Embassy at 2232-1255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on collection points or if you know of a recycling organization that is not listed, contact Ceprona at email@example.com or 8834-9406.
This is a luxury for the select few in Costa Rica, so if you’ve got it, use it: Escazú (2208-7575, www.escazu.go.cr) – Every other week in Bello Horizonte (Mon.), San Antonio (Tues.), Guachipelín Sur (Wed.), Guachipelín Norte (Thurs.), San Rafael (Mon.), Trejos Montealegre (Tues.), Jaboncillos Sur (Wed.) and Jaboncillos Norte (Thurs.). Every Friday at commercial centers.
Curridabat (2272-0126, www.curridabat.go.cr) – Wednesdays, glass, plastic and aluminum only.
San Rafael de Heredia (2262-7978, ext. 33, www.munisrh.go.cr) – Every other week in seven sectors, call for details.
Desamparados (2228-5757, www.desamparados.go.cr) – Service in all 13 districts, see the municipality’s collection calendar at www.desamparados.go.cr/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2&Itemid=1.
Southern Caribbean (2756-8181, www.recicaribe.org) – Mondays, Cahuita to Hone Creek; Tuesdays, Manzanillo to Rocking Jay’s on the south edge of Puerto Viejo; Wednesdays, Puerto Viejo to Black Beach; Thursdays, banana farms; first and third Friday of month, Bribrí; second Friday of month, Gandoca; fourth Friday of month, indigenous territories including Volio, Rancho Grande, Shiroles, Suretka, Bambú, Chase.
The most important thing to remember when recycling in Costa Rica is to clean and separate everything before bringing it to a collection center (or setting it on the curb for those lucky few). Here’s a list of what items are recyclable, depending on the service or facility:
–Cardboard (dry, tied up or in a plastic bag)
–Paper, including newspaper (dry, in a plastic bag)
–Glass bottles and broken glass (in own plastic bag)
–Plastics (in own plastic bag)
–Tetra Pak (juice and wine boxes, flattened, in own plastic bag)
–Metal plastics (coffee bags, potato chip bags)
–Metals: aluminum cans, bronze, copper, iron, lead (batteries), scrap metal, steel, tin
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