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Waste management ‘one of biggest environmental problems,’ Costa Rica says

March 18, 2021

The Costa Rican government on Wednesday called mis-handling of solid waste “one of the biggest environmental problems” facing the country today.

In that context, the Presidency introduced an action plan for waste management, focusing on reducing waste and improving processing and disposal infrastructure.

“This plan seeks to promote solutions at the regional level, through the inter-institutional coordination of the entities involved, from the central government to the local governments, including various sectors with the capacity to transform and reincorporate waste into the economy,” the Presidency says.

Institute for Rural Development (INDER) is investing $2.1 million to improve waste management through the following efforts:

  • A project to manage solid waste in Cartago and Desamparados.
  • Supporting environmental technology parks in Siquirres/Guácimo and Santa Cruz.
  • Creating a plant to manufacture recycled plastic blocks in the canton of Mora.
  • Constructing a Waste Transfer Center.

In addition, a National Composting Plan would aim to eliminate organic matter in Costa Rica’s landfills by 2030. 

Among the other strategies discussed by Costa Rican leaders this week was “Clean Rivers,” a program meant to manage the recovery of urban rivers in order to improve ecosystems and the lives of people in cities.

Another effort seeks to reduce the reliance on single-use plastics and promote community environmental programs.

Waste management in Costa Rica has long been an environmental issue.

The Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense has called the Tárcoles River “the most contaminated river in Central America” and notes thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater are dumped into it daily.

Fed by the Río Virilla, which crosses the San José metropolitan area, the Tárcoles River also amasses garbage from across the Central Valley.

Efforts have been made to clean up the Tárcoles River. Most notably, the Los Tajos water treatment plant, which opened in 2016, reduces the environmental impact of wastewater discharges into the Rivera, Torres, María Aguilar and Tiribí rivers.

But Los Tajos operates at well under its maximum designed capacity “due to collapses and lack of interconnection of sanitary sewer works,” according to the Comptroller General.

Data from the Health Ministry indicate Costa Rica produces 564 metric tons of plastic per day. Less than 2% of that (14 metric tons) is recycled; the rest goes to landfills, sewers, rivers and seas.

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