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Government, environmental groups agree to temporarily postpone approval of waste gasification

August 6, 2015

Representatives of environmental groups asked President Luis Guillermo Solís to maintain a moratorium on waste gasification and to refrain from signing into law a new regulation that would allow the controversial waste treatment in Costa Rica.

Leaders of citizen groups “Hacia Basura Cero Costa Rica” (Towards Zero Waste) and Red CONCERVA, along with lawmakers Franklin Corella Vargas from the ruling Citizen Action Party (PAC) and Edgardo Araya Sibaja of Frente Amplio (FA) sent Solís a written request to put the regulation on hold until further analysis can be conducted on the effects of gasification on the environment and on alternative energy generation methods.

Leaders of the environmental groups met with government officials at Casa Presidencial on Tuesday evening and handed them the request, Corella said. The lawmaker also confirmed they reached an agreement with officials from the Presidency, Health and Environment ministries to continue the discussion on waste disposal before signing gasification into law.

Supporters of gasification say the process, which consists of heating waste at high temperatures and then burning the waste gases for electricity, emits fewer toxins and is potentially more efficient than traditional incineration.

Opponents of gasification say it’s just as damaging to public health, air quality and the environment as conventional waste incinerators.

During his presidential campaign Solís promoted and signed an agreement called “PACto Ambiental” (Environmental Pact) in which he vowed to, if elected president, “reject any form of thermal processing of solid waste until it is proven by scientific studies that it does not harm the environment.”

However both the Health and Environment ministries in July approved the regulation authorizing gasification in the country, despite a moratorium signed last year by those same ministries.

“The approval of gasification here is only pending President Solís’ signature and its publication in the official newspaper La Gaceta to enter into force,” Corella told The Tico Times on Wednesday.

“We are now demanding that before moving forward with its approval the government submit the proposal to public consultation so that it can be properly debated. We want to talk about other options such as creating recycling centers. We believe alternative waste disposal options are the only ones that can help the country achieve its carbon neutral goals,” Corella said.

If gasification is approved, opposition groups are asking the president to maintain strict environmental controls to ensure gasification plants fully comply with provisions of Law #8839 on Solid Waste Management. Corella said opponents are also insisting that the government comply with a specific provision of Law #8839 stating that “before approving a new waste disposal method, the government must provide sufficient proof that it has all the required technical infrastructure and staff.”

Environmental groups also say there aren’t any reliable local studies on air streams or other environmental variables that must be taken into account during waste incineration.

Corella noted that, according to official data, 58 percent of waste in Costa Rica is organic, making possible more environmentally-friendly waste disposal solutions, such as composting, a method for decomposing and converting waste into fertilizer.

“Waste composting has very low costs and it is currently being successfully used in various communities here. And producing fertilizer is just one option, there are people here using waste to fabricate plastic roof tiles and shingles,” he said.

According to the legislator, most PAC lawmakers support the environmental groups’ opposition to gasification and support their request to the president. PAC lawmakers will meet on Monday to reach a consensus in order to send a similar petition to the president, Corella said.

FA’s Edgardo Araya on Wednesday said that all his party’s lawmakers oppose gasification and that they’ve already demanded Solís follow through with his campaign promises.

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