San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Putting Garbage in Its Place

Last week, the Ministry of Health accepted bids for a comprehensive plan for the proper collection, treatment and disposal of all waste – toxic and otherwise – coming from the country’s public hospitals and clinics.

Until now, the treatment of medical waste has been as mixed up as the red and black bags meant to separate toxic from non-toxic waste. Paper and soda cans are often tossed along with dirty bandages into the same bags at the nation’s health care centers.

That is not the worst of the problem. Reports of food being sold from the red boxes designated for the disposal of used hypodermic needles; limbs buried in the hospital cemetery being dug out by street dogs; hospital waste found along the Colorado and Turrialba rivers; and a former city garbage collector contracting tuberculosis from handling dangerous medical waste he should have never had to deal with – the stories are endless, and they are tragic.

The policies established by President Abel Pacheco and Health Minister Rocío Sáenz last year were a first step, but unfortunately medical waste is still not dealt with properly in too many hospitals.

The Social Security System’s new comprehensive plan will make one private organization responsible for it all, hopefully allowing for better training, easier  monitoring and proper disposal of hazardous garbage.

However, it is only the beginning.

In a country that considers itself environmentally progressive, a waste-management plan that encompasses the entire country’s solid waste should not be wishful thinking.

Handling waste properly is not only the result of good governmental decisions, it is a collaborative frame of mind created by a country’s people, something instilled at an early age through anti-litter programs, good recycling habits and a conscientious approach to generating less waste in the first place.

It’s time the slogan “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” became common knowledge in Costa Rican homes.


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