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Recycling in Costa Rica: Combating Renewable Waste Issues

Costa Rica, often considered one of the eco-friendliest countries in the world, has one nagging thorn in their side that they aim to address as the country progresses.

While major strides have been made in the renewable energy and carbon neutrality sectors, Costa Rica has admittedly struggled in their recycling efforts, particularly in the plastics industry. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), as of 2018, Costa Rica’s plastic industry was the third largest respective industry within the country. In the same year, the UNDP also reported that Costa Rica was the biggest importer of plastics in Central America.

The challenge to recovering this valuable waste has been a multi-faceted problem, a problem that the Government and institutional agencies of Costa Rica have vowed to address and improve.

The Challenge of Recycling in Costa Rica

In total, as of a 2018 report, it was estimated by the Costa Rican Ministry of Health that Costa Rica dumped nearly 550 tons of plastic daily. 80% of this total waste was found to be dumped in the ocean, 11% in dump sites and landfills, and a meager 9% of all renewable waste actually making it to a recycling facility.

These numbers are troubling enough alone for a country that prides itself on being one of the greenest in the world, not to mention the worry that the tourism sector of Costa Rica may be affected if these numbers are not kept in check.

The challenge to recycling in Costa Rica can ultimately be attributed to the pure vast amount of land and terrain that any recycled material must travel to be collected and processed. Collection trucks for recyclable materials must travel far and wide, making their availability to citizens who do look to recycle their reusable goods rather sparse. For agencies looking to find a sustainable renewable waste management model, this can be a financial and logistic nightmare with no easy solutions.

Still, many strides have been made in Costa Rica by individuals and agencies alike to help combat the renewable waste program problem in the otherwise eco-friendly country.

Costa Rica’s Recycling Efforts

While there is still a long way to go for Costa Rica in combating this renewable waste problem, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and steady progress has been reported.

In 2017, the Ministry of Health reported a 469% increase in the amount of recyclable waste that the country received from 2015, totaling a whopping 100,200 tons of waste. This is an encouraging feat for Costa Rica, but what factors can be attributed for the rise in environmental consciousness?

For starters, officials at the Department of Environment and Health believe that an overall rise in environmental consciousness may have something to do with it. Costa Ricans, in general, want to keep their pristine land the way it is. Although it may be tough at the moment, Costa Ricans seem to be finding creative ways and alternatives to get their recyclables to their proper final destination.

In addition, several other major incentives and laws have been enacted to help curb the appeal of overusing non-recyclable material, and aid in their proper disposal.

Single-Use Plastic Laws

One such deterrent is Law No. 9786, or “Law to Combat Plastic Pollution and Protect the Environment”.

Law No 9786, enacted on November 26th of 2019, “bans the sale or distribution of plastic bags by supermarkets and other retail establishments and allows for the use of biodegradable bags and reusable bags certified as having a low environmental impact and meeting certain design standards including at least 50% recycled content.”

This law also has several other eco- friendly bi-laws which prohibit the sale and distribution of plastic straws as well as require single-use plastic bottle producers, distributors, and retailers to establish a program for the recovery and recycling of such products.

The law has also since been expanded upon to help Costa Rica’s National Parks as part of the Comprehensive Waste Management Plan, as a February 25, 2020 declaration by the National System of Conversation areas announced a ban on single-use plastics from entering Costa Rica’s National Parks and Protected Wildlife Areas. Some items include plastic water bottles, non-reusable plastic bags, disposable cutlery, disposable cups, fast- food containers, and straws.

Other Recycling Incentives in Costa Rica

Besides laws and statues, there are other programs and incentives being introduced to eco-minded Costa Ricans as well.

One such program “ECOLONES”, provides an interesting incentive for Costa Ricans to round up their reusable waste and take it to their nearest solid waste management facility to be recycled.

Announced in April 2018, ECOLONES is an e-coin based reward system which allows individuals to profit off of the recyclable materials that they bring to a solid waste management facility. Individuals must simply register for the program, bring in their recyclable goods, and be rewarded via discounts on certain goods and services. Not only can you feel good about helping to save Costa Rica’s environment, but now you can essentially get paid for it.

In response to the success of the program, PepsiCo Latin America Also recently launched an initiative with ECOLONES to help bolster the already growing incentive program.

Final Word

Although Costa Rica certainly has a long way to go in their quest for a sustainable renewable waste management model, the strides that they have mad in such a relatively short amount of time are admirable.

As new laws and initiatives are put in place, expect Costa Rica to respond as they always have to any ecosystem-related issue, with intense passion and respect for their beautiful land.

We will certainly keep you updated as new developments in Costa Rica’s waste management efforts arise.

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