San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Recycle, Reuse, San Ramón Style

READ this paper long enough and youknow all too well that Costa Rica faces amountain of problems. But one organizationin the northwestern Central Valley cityof San Ramón tackles not one, but two ofthose issues head-on.The group’s name, Women’s CollectiveRescuing Our Ecology – also known by itsSpanish acronym COFERENE – embodiesits two goals: the organization collectssolid materials for recycling, an activitythat provides a source of training andincome for community women of modestmeans.“We show the flag for raising women’sconsciousness and do our part to care forthe environment,” said Director MaríaTeresa Arguedas.But Arguedas quickly points out thatthe group doesn’t stand on titles and formalityand even insisted that everyoneworking one recent Friday morning contributeto a group interview.THAT interview took place inCOFERENE’s modest office with everyoneseated on comfortable, sturdy chairsmade partially of recycled corrugated cardboard.(Give the group credit for talkingthe talk and walking the walk). Several furnituremakers in the nearby town ofPalmares happily take that carton materialfor manufacture of their goods.COFERENE is one of 11 such collectivesaround the country with the same aimof promoting the visibility of women in thecommunity. All are affiliated with the privateGender Commission of the non-governmentalorganization Council forSustainable Development (CONAO).Other groups around Costa Rica createartisan work or cultivate coffee, medicinalplants or butterflies.Two other CONAO women’s organizationscollect recyclable materials in theCaribbean port city of Limón and the centralPacific town of Quepos.The San Ramón organization employsa full-time staff of eight women, as well asan army of part-time volunteers, femaleand male, who sort through about 40 metrictons (about 88,000 pounds) of solidmaterials collected each month.“The public face of the organization isentirely female,” Arguedas said, quicklyemphasizing that the group has nothingagainst men.But given the mandate to raisewomen’s consciousness, all interviews andpublic talks about recycling are presentedby women.COFERENE uses no specific indicatorsto measure consciousness-raising, saidYirley López, who directs the organization’seducational programs. But womenwho have been homemakers their entireadult lives and have cared for children,with or without a husband, come to theorganization and acquire new skills andindependence.“We manage the organization, we meetwith government bodies and other communitygroups, we make decisions,” Lópezsaid, emphasizing that the typical householdhere does not foster the developmentof such independence among women.Public outreach is one of COFERENE’s most important functions,López said. The eight staffers and volunteerstalk to groups, mostly in schools, starting asearly as pre-school and kindergarten.“We get the kids to identify problemswith trash disposal and to suggest ways toimprove the situation,” López said, addingthat everyone, adult or child, is surprised tofind out that the life of some of their trashcan be decades or centuries.VIDEOTAPES or an informal theaterproduction might supplement the presentation.One frequent outcome is the formationof a school recycling committee.The government really doesn’t promoteor fund recycling, Arguedas said. Much ofthe organization’s work is supported by theprivate sector – the Netherlands’ HumanistInstitute of Development Corporation(HIVOS) and the Office of GermanTechnical Cooperation (GTZ) are prominentamong them – although the Municipality ofSan Ramón does supply space for officesand warehouse in the district of San Juan atthe north edge of the city.COFERENE was the proud recipient of aNovember 2003 award from the Ford MotorCompany for its environmental work.The organization is one of few entities inthe country able to collect all solid recyclablematerials – most places can acceptonly certain classes of items – and takesplastic, glass, paper, newsprint, aluminumand other metals for drop offat its centro de acopio(collection center).“We know The TicoTimes,” López said. “Wesee it all the time in ourpiles of newspapers to berecycled.”A tour through theadjoining warehousereveals piles of materials,dutifully separated andbeing prepared for collection.And the women areforever finding out aboutnew uses and markets forthe materials they gather.López was surprised tofind that those ubiquitous plastic shoppingbags could be solidified and converted intosolid sheets of plastic, which are then usedas an alternative to metal roofing.KIMBERLY Clark was the first firmwith which COFERENE signed an agreement,and has been regularly collectingrecycled paper since 1998. Most of the glassdropped off here goes to Central Americanglass manufacturer VICESA, whose CostaRican branch is based in Cartago, east ofSan José.López points out that shredded papercan be turned into a protectantfor gardenmulches. And yesterday’splastic soda bottle likelyends up as fibers in syntheticfabrics.There isn’t yet a marketfor all types of plasticin Costa Rica. A bottleyou see with the universaltriangular recycling symbolmight be made in acountry where somethingcan be done with it, evenif that’s not yet the casehere. When in doubt, theorganization takes thematerials, López said.COFERENE’s collection center is 700meters north and 300 meters east of the hospitalin San Ramón and is open for drop-offof recyclable materials Monday-Friday, 7:30a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m.To contact the center, call 447-2181 or For more info,check the Spanish-language Web site

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