San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Southern Zone Boycotts Plastic

PLASTIC Coca-Cola bottles, now in attractive metallic shades – pinks, purples and blues, among others – can be easily spotted not only at stores throughout Costa Rica, but also on the ground, littering the streets of the country’s Southern Zone, according to area resident Tao Watts.Coca-Cola Femsa S.A., the company that bottles and distributes Coca-Cola products in Costa Rica, recently announced the returnable glass bottles it used to ship to the Osa Peninsula would be replaced by plastic bottles, a decision that alarmed area residents, environmentalists and hotel and restaurant owners, concerned about an ongoing garbage problem that already consumes the peninsula.The company’s failure to reply to alternative proposals from Osa residents led some to boycott the plastic bottles by no longer purchasing and reselling Coca-Cola Femsa products and switching to Pepsi instead.THE company’s regional managers say recycling efforts and community aid are planned, and the change to plastic is meant to facilitate shipping of the estimated 200 boxes of bottles the company delivers to the area each week. Three weeks ago, Coca-Cola Femsa announced its switchover to plastic, according to Osaresident Belén Momeñe, owner of ElRemanso Hotel.The announcement spurred Momeñe and other hotel owners in the area to seek a compromise with the company, urging its leadership to rethink the change or contribute to the community’s recycling efforts.A group of seven area hotels and the Women of the Osa (WOO), a local women’s association, addressed a letter to Jorge Barahona, head of Coca-Cola Femsa in the Southern Zone, asking the company to donate $5,000 to build a recycling center in Puerto Jiménez, a port town on the peninsula; to promise to collect the center’s plastic and recycle it; and to contribute to the environmental education of the Osa population.According to Barahona, however, these projects are the responsibility of local governments, and Coca-Cola Femsa has other alternatives planned for the community.TAO Watts, WOO’s secretary, said the women’s association, formed two years ago, is organizing the construction of a recycling center at the local school in Puerto Jiménez. “When we heard (about the switchover to plastic), we said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re trying to reduce garbage, and now they (Coca-Cola Femsa) are tripling the amount of plastic,” she said, adding that, as she spoke on the phone with The Tico Times, she could spot two Coca-Cola bottles on the street from a second-floor balcony in Puerto Jiménez.Whether or not Coca-Cola Femsa offers a donation, the association, which has already gathered $5,000 through fundraising efforts, will build the recycling center, Watts said.“Even on deserted beaches, where there is no type of human impact, tons of plastic bottles are swept up by the tides. Every week it is up to us to clean up what you (Coca-Cola Femsa) and others like you produce.Every day we are responsible for cleaning the garbage that you incessantly sell and spread throughout the world,” said the letter sent to Barahona approximately three weeks ago, as provided to The Tico Times by Momeñe.The letter, signed by representatives of El Remanso, Bosque del Cabo, Lapa Ríos, Luna, Nicuesa, Iguana, and Ojo del Mar Lodges, urged Coca-Cola Femsa to reply before Sept. 1 or face a boycott of their product by hotels and area residents.Momeñe and Jorge Arrieta, manager of the peninsula’s Lapa Ríos Lodge and key instigator of the “plastic boycott,” told The Tico Times they have not yet received a reply from Coca-Cola Femsa and many hotels have started their boycott.BARAHONA said he visited Puerto Jiménez on Monday to present alternative solutions to the community.Although he did not speak directly to Momeñe or Arrieta, who said they have not yet heard from the company, but to members of the community, including a MINAE representative, Barahona said Coca-Cola Femsa will lead a recycling effort in the area through its environmental program Misión Planeta.“We are going to reach an understanding. We already started collecting mountains of (plastic) waste with a recycling truck,” he said, referring to a project started approximately a month ago.In addition, on Monday, Coca-Cola Femsa left two recycling bins for plastic waste in Puerto Jiménez. The company plans to place another 13 in the area in the future, although Barahona does not have a fixed date for the delivery, he said. Regarding the boycott, Barahona said, “They should boycott to have the roads here fixed.“Costa Rica is a free country. People can decide whatever they choose, and we cannot force them to buy Coca-Cola. But Coca- Cola is going to continue providing its services diligently,” he said.Walter Cruz, Coca-Cola Femsa Commercial operations manager, said the company’s decision was made because of the “awful state of the roads” in the area and the “limited volume of some glass bottles.”According to Cruz, plastic bottles “facilitate the logistics of shipping and operationsin the area.”ACCORDING to Eliécer Arce, assistant regional director of the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) in Puerto Jiménez, the peninsula has enough garbage problems as it is without Coca-Cola Femsa adding to them with increased plastic waste.Puerto Jiménez has one open-pit garbage dump that has been officially closed, but continues to be used, he said. Arce explained Puerto Jiménez is not prepared to manage the extra waste the Coca-Cola plastic bottles – unlike glass bottles, which must be returned to the plant, where they are cleaned and reused – will produce.GUSTAVORodríguez, regional director of the Ministry of Public Health in Pérez Zeledón, in the Southern Zone, said the Puerto Jiménez dump was closed approximately six months ago.The ministry issued a sanitary order because the dump did not meet Public Health Ministry norms.However, the owner of the dump opted to close it himself so the Public Health Ministry would not have to close it by force, he explained.FOR more information on the Women of the Osa or how to make donations to the community recycling center, contact Tao Watts at 820-7095 or Andrea Bonilla at 352-5149.

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